Women who take part in the Cervical Screening Programme – formerly known as a ‘smear test’ – are set to benefit from an enhanced test, with the introduction of screening for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
The Department of Health says the additional test will enable treatment to be targeted at those women who are at a higher risk of developing problems, while reducing anxiety associated with additional tests for those women in low-risk groups.
High risk types of HPV cause the majority of cervical cancers.
Everyone carries HPV, both men and women, with more than 120 strains of the virus known to exist.
Some strains present a higher risk to women than others, as they have the potential to cause the development of abnormal cell growth in the cervix. These abnormalities can easily be treated before becoming dangerous – which is why it’s so important for women to attend screening.
With the discovery that HPV causes the majority of cervical cancers and following research and trials over many years, it is now possible to screen for high risk HPV as part of the existing Cervical Screening Programme.
This information can then be used to determine whether women need to be referred for a colposcopy (a procedure to examine surface of the cervix using a magnifying instrument called a colposcope), as well as testing whether or not their treatment for abnormal cells has been successful.
The test for high risk HPV is done on the cervical screening sample, which means that women will not notice anything different when they have their test. HPV screening will only take place where cervical screening returns a mild abnormal result.
Health Minister David Anderson MHK said: ‘As part of the Department of Health’s overarching strategy, we continue to focus on prevention over cure, most recently demonstrated with the introduction of Bowel Screening on the island in 2011.
‘This latest development in screening will enable us to improve care for women and goes hand in hand with our HPV vaccination programme for girls aged 12 to 13, which launched in 2010.
‘Through this action, it is hoped that many of the cervical cancer cases we see today can be prevented, saving many lives.’
Mr Bob Fayle, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and clinical director of the Women, Children and Outpatients Division at Noble’s Hospital, said: ‘This is a very positive development in cervical screening, and is based on extensive research and an increasing understanding of the role of HPV in the development of cancer of the cervix.
‘Being called for further examination in the colposcopy clinic is nothing for women to be alarmed about, the vast majority of abnormalities are easily diagnosed and treated in the clinic.’
All women in the Isle of Man aged between 25 and 49 years of age are called for Cervical Screening every three years. Those aged 50 – 64 are called every five years. Further information on the Island’s Cervical Screening Programme can be found at www.gov.im/health/services/Public_Health/HI/Screening/cervical.xml
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