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Cervical Cancer Awareness Week: The benefits of screening

Cervical cancer is the second most common female cancer in Europe, with 300 women in Ireland being diagnosed every year. It’s caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed on from any sexual contact with a man or woman.

It’s important to catch cervical cancer early, as it typically leads to better treatment outcomes. Just remember that, while screenings reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer, they can’t eliminate the risk completely.

Why should I get screened?

There are a number of benefits to getting screened. For one, it can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer by 75%. Screenings aim to identify abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix that are potentially problematic. This means that a risk can be identified before cancer develops. These abnormal changes are much easier to treat than cervical cancer.

Where do smear tests come in?

When being screened for cervical cancer, you will be asked to attend a smear test. Every woman in Ireland is entitled to a free smear test once she reaches 25 years of age. From there, it’s recommended to get a smear test every 3 years until the age of 44. After this, you should get tested every 5 years.

During the test, a doctor or nurse will take a sample of your cells. This will then be analysed by a laboratory to see if any issues are detected. The thought of getting a smear test can make people feel anxious but there really is no need to worry. It is a very quick procedure. And, while it can be slightly uncomfortable, it is not painful.

If abnormalities are detected in your smear test, try not to panic. Abnormal changes to cervix cells can occur for a range of reasons, including infection. You’ll be brought back for another test and undergo a detailed examination of your cervix, known as a colposcopy.

Reducing your risk

As well as attending regular screenings, there are a few things you can to do lower your risk of developing cervical cancer. As HPV is spread by sexual contact, practicing safe sex by using a condom is a simple way to reduce your risk.

Smoking makes it harder for your body to fight the virus, increasing the chances of it developing into cancer. So if you can, try to quit smoking.

Remember, the best way to reduce your risk is to regularly attend a screening.

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