Regular cervical smear tests still the best way to prevent cervical cancer, says organisation
The Dublin Well Woman Centre has welcomed publication this week of the review of a number of CervicalCheck smears by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), noting its conclusion that in approximately 15% of cases, there were missed opportunities to prevent or diagnose cancer earlier.
DWWC Chief Executive Alison Begas commented: “In a further approximate 15% of cases, the RCOG review panel disagreed with the CervicalCheck reading, but they did not believe this had an adverse impact on the woman’s health outcome.”
The RCOG review found that overall, the CervicalCheck programme is performing effectively, and that the pattern of discordance (where the RCOG slide review differed from the original CervicalCheck result) resembles that of the NHS screening programme in the UK.
DWWC’s Medical Director Dr Shirley McQuade added: “Since the start of 2014, all of our smear tests have been sent to the Coombe Hospital laboratory in Dublin. We greatly value the importance of having smears analysed in Ireland; it’s easier for us to communicate with the laboratory, even if the turn-around time on results is still longer than it was before the crisis started. Lengthy delays in analysis increase the sense of worry that many women can feel about their smear test.”
Dr McQuade went on to welcome the fact that the CervicalCheck programme will move in 2020 to a more targeted HPV-based analysis of smear samples.
“It’s important that CervicalCheck moves as quickly as is realistic to introducing HPV-typing, and we are engaging with them on this. HPV-typing is a more accurate method of detecting abnormal smear cytology. It will also have an advantage in the laboratory of being a more automated and less labour-intensive process.
“The aim of regular smear testing is to pick up changes to the cervix before they become cancerous, allowing doctors to intervene and treat as early as possible,” underlined Dr McQuade.
When the crisis in confidence in CervicalCheck broke in late April 2018, the Dublin Well Woman Centre saw a huge increase in the number of smear tests it takes.
Alison Begas concluded: “We heard on a daily basis from women who were anxious about attending for a smear test, or over their result, and they were seeking a lot of reassurance regarding the programme. It is essential that we recognise the serious and tragic outcomes for some of the women affected by screening failures, but it is also important to remember that cervical screening can never prevent all cases of cervical cancer. However, regular smear tests remain the best means of identifying changes to the cervix and preventing the onset of cervical cancer.”