CervicalCheck, the National Cervical Screening Programme, was introduced in 2008 and offers free smear tests to women aged 25-60.
Women under the age of 25 are not invited for screening. The HSE advises that this is because there is no evidence that screening would be of any benefit to them. At this stage in life, normal cell changes in the cervix can look very like abnormal cells. If CervicalCheck tested women under 25, changes that are normal might be treated as abnormal and a woman could be sent for treatment when they don't need it. Invasive cervical cancer is also very rare at this age. The HSE advises any woman under 25 who is worried about their risk of developing cervical cancer to speak to their GP.
This approach is in line with screening programmes in other countries. The UK National Screening Committee recommended in November 2012 that the age of first invitation for cervical screening should be raised to 25 in Wales and Scotland on the basis that there is evidence of a large number of women screened and treated with relatively little benefit below this age.
Cancer screening is one important aspect of cancer prevention, and another is vaccination. The HPV vaccine protects against the HPV virus which can cause cancer and genital warts in both women and men, and has been offered to girls in their first year of secondary school since 2010. The Deputy may wish to know that, following a positive recommendation from HIQA, that an extension of the HPV vaccination programme to boys would be both clinically and cost effective, as of September this year HPV vaccination is now available to boys in first year of secondary school also.