Northern Ireland

Smear tests: Drop in uptake among younger NI women

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Media captionSmear tests: 'Five minutes can save your life'

There has been a drop in the uptake of smear tests among women aged between 25 and 29 in Northern Ireland.

The Public Health Agency has responded with an appeal to those in their mid to late 20s to take the test.

Five years ago, 71.5% of 25 to 29-year-olds had a smear test. Last year, that figure dropped to 67.9%.

Dr Declan Quinn, a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology, said missing appointments could be delaying a cancer diagnosis.

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Media captionA nurse who trains health staff to carry out cervical screening explains what happens during the test

"I see women who put off their smear and the anxiety builds over many years and they never want to get a test done," he said.

"But if they are younger and the test is abnormal, the vast majority of them can be treated with simple procedures.

"It's important to start the process at 25."

'I was completely devastated'

In all other age groups, the figure has increased.

Those aged between 35 and 54 performed best, with about 80.8% of eligible women having the test.

Every year in Northern Ireland, an average of 95 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer - about 25 die from the illness.

Image caption Dr Declan Quinn said many women fear the tests, but early diagnosis is important

Early detection and treatment can prevent seven in 10 cases of cervical cancer and often the earlier it is detected, the less intrusive the treatment is.

In 2016, at the age of 36, Tanya Byers was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

On her 37th birthday she had a hysterectomy.

"I was completely devastated," she said.

"I always went for my smear tests, then that one came back with high-grade abnormal cells but it was caught early and I didn't need chemo or radiotherapy.

"I consider myself one of the lucky ones."

Who is eligible?

Cervical screening is offered to all women aged between 25 and 64.

Those between the ages of 25 and 49 are automatically invited by their GP every three years and between 50 and 64, it is every five years.

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Image caption The Public Health Agency has appealed to women in their mid to late 20s to have a smear test

Tanya Byers said she could not understand why women ignore the letter from their GP when it arrives in the post.

"My advice to women is to go.

"As women, wives, mothers we often put everything else before our health but really we should be putting our own health first.

"We have a duty to ourselves and our family.

"It takes five minutes - it took me longer driving to the surgery than it did having the test carried out."

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