Introduction of free smear tests ‘vital’

From today’s Irish Times

 INTRODUCING FREE cervical smear testing is a far greater priority than starting a cervical vaccination programme, Prof Tom Keane, director of the State’s cancer control programme said yesterday.

 The Government’s plan to introduce cervical vaccination for 12-year-old girls was shelved last November on cost grounds. Prof Keane said he believed that the vaccination programme would be introduced at some stage.

“We are at the moment rolling out the cervical screening programme which is far more vital right now because there are far more people at risk who have already been exposed to the virus over the last 30 or 40 years,” he told RTÉ. “So that would be the priority.”

The National Cancer Screening Service has estimated that a successful national screening programme could cut mortality rates from cervical cancer by up to 80 per cent.

Prof Keane said the impact of effective screening programmes on cancer death rates would take at least five years to be seen.

“We’re already seeing that in Ireland with BreastCheck. The impact of BreastCheck is now visible in cancer mortality in Ireland. It’s coming down rapidly.”

Prof Keane said “considerable progress” had been made in breast cancer by focusing on the concentration of surgery and diagnostics in the eight specialist centres.

The focus would now switch to prostate cancer, rectal cancer and lung cancer he said, and new initiatives would be introduced in the coming months.

He said the funding was in place for these plans “and I am confident it will be in place rolling forward into 2010”.

Prof Keane said there was a lot to be learned about the best way to introduce a cervical vaccination programme.

“No two countries are really implementing it the same way because there are a lot of unknowns about how best to do this. And it’s still very unclear whether in fact people who have this vaccination may have to be vaccinated repeatedly over many years,” he said.