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smear test

Doctors have stated that the lack of consultants in Irish hospitals is having a "serious effect" on Irish women's healthcare.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) have released figures showing 28,417 women are currently waiting to see a gynaecologist in Ireland.

5,394 women are waiting over 12 months, and there has been a 40 percent increase since 2014 in the number of women waiting to see a consultant gynaecologist nationally.

Gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Peter Boylan has stated to the Irish Mirror that the problem could be seriously detrimental to Irish women's health.

"Unfilled specialist posts are making it difficult for women to be seen in a timely fashion," he said.

"Our waiting lists for outpatients are among the worst in the world… and that's having a really serious effect on women's health and well-being." 

3,469 women are waiting for the Rotunda Hospital to offer them an appointment with a gynaecologist. 3,148 women are waiting in Tallaght Hospital, and 2,099 are waiting for the Coombe Hospital in Dublin.

Galway University Hospital has 1,898 women waiting, with 1,783 in Letterkenny General Hospital, 1,522 in Portlaoise Hospital and 1,468 in Limerick University Hospital.

The consultant recruitment and retention crisis is a big factor in rising numbers of Irish women now waiting, according to the IHCA.

One-in-five or over 500 of all permanent consultant posts nationally are now empty or only temporarily filled, leading to long periods of wait times to access essential healthcare services.

The IHCA claim that the Government's consistent support for a "failed policy" is resulting in "the unique and extremely damaging" salary cut which consultants appointed since 2012 have been served.

New consultants are being paid up to 51 percent less than their colleagues, despite having some of the same job responsibilities.

Pay parity needs to be restored for new consultants, rather than driving them abroad to countries like Australia who will pay them accordingly.

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Smear testing is the most effective way to detect changes in the cells of the cervix and is an essential tool in the early detection of cervical cancer.

The free procedure is available to all Irish women over the age of 25, however, recent statistics have raised concerns over the amount of women choosing to ignore the potentially live-saving service.

Worrying new figures show that an increasing amount of young women are avoiding smear tests over body image concerns.

A survey conducted by the UK-based Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust showed that 35 per cent of women cited embarrassment as the main reason for avoiding their appointments, with issues around body weight and odours being the primary offenders.

Rather surprisingly, 48 per cent of the 2,017 participants mentioned feeling anxious about the appearance of their vulva.

Sure, nobody likes to have a stranger get up close and personal with their private parts, but it's worth remembering that these people have seen it ALL before.

The doctors and nurse who perform these procedures are looking out for your best interest and definitely don't care if you're covered in razor bumps.

Still sceptical? Here's a a breakdown of what to expect at your first smear test to ease any concerns you may have.

1. Pre- appointment

Upon turning 25 you'll receive a letter inviting you to make an appointment for your first free smear test.

Most GPs will offer the service, and with over 4,500 doctors and nurses registered with CervicalCheck, a trusted provider is always close by.

You can find the full list of GP practices, Women's Health, Family Planning and Well Woman Clinics nationwide here

2. During appointment

When you arrive for your appointment you'll be asked to consent to the procedure by signing a Cervical Screening Form.

You'll then be taken to a private room where you'll be asked to remove the bottom half of your clothing.

(Pro-tip: Wear a skirt or a dress to speed up the process).

The doctor or nurse will then insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina to hold it open.

A small brush will then be used to remove a sample of cells from the cervix (the area where the top of you vagina leads to the uterus)

Needless to say, the sensation may feel slightly uncomfortable, but it should not be painful and should only take a few minutes.

3. Post- appointment

The sample is then sent to the laboratory where it will be examined for cell changes under a microscope.

Once the lab results have been returned, the doctor or nurse who carried out the test will let you know whether or not anything abnormal was found.

However, it's important to remember that even if a result is not normal, it does not necessarily mean you have cancer.

Infections and minor cell changes can also produce abnormal result. Your doctor will then let you know about any follow-up appointments you may need.

If your result shows no abnormalities you will be offered another free screening in three years time.

Now, that doesn't sound so bad, does it?

For more information or to find a registered practitioner in your local area log on to cervicalcheck.ie.

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In an incredible breakthrough for cancer research, a female scientist from the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) has reportedly found a complete cure for human papillomavirus (HPV).

The apparent cure would help to prevent the spread of cervical cancer among women. Dr Eva Ramon Gallegos, a Mexican scientist, claims to have eliminated the virus in 29 patients infected with HPV.

The report states that a team of researchers, led by Dr. Gallegos, treated the 29 women with non-invasive photodynamic therapy (PDT), which involves using a drug called a photosensitizer and a particular type of light to treat different areas of the body.

Dr. Gallegos had been studying the effects of photodynamic therapy for an amazing 20 YEARS to help tackle tumours such as breast and melanoma cancer, and specialised in the study of photodynamic therapy.

She treated 420 patients in Oaxaca and Veracruz, as well as 29 women in Mexico, with the technique. The repercussions from the treatment were promising; photodynamic therapy was able to eradicate the virus in all patients.

The virus was eradicated in 100 percent of those tested who carried HPV without premalignant lesions of cervical cancer using photodynamic therapy. The treatment was 64.3 percent successful in women with both HPV and lesions.

The therapy has no side effects, which is amazing as it doesn't do any damage at all to the body to have the treatment.

Dr. Gallegos said; “Unlike other treatments, it only eliminates damaged cells and does not affect healthy structures. Therefore, it has great potential to decrease the death rate from cervical cancer,” Radio Guama report.

HPV is a widespread virus from all over the world, with more than 100 variants. 14 of these variants can cause cervical cancer, a disease which is fast becoming a leading cause for death among female cancer patients.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Feature image: National Polytechnic Institute

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The HSE has revealed that 221 women have been affected by the cervical screening scandal. They shared that the figure jumped from 209 to 221 after an additional 12 cases were confirmed.

HSE Director General John Conaghan shared the new figure with the Public Accounts Committee this morning.

It was also revealed that a review of the affected women’s smear tests has not yet started. The review of over 3,000 smear tests was meant to be completed by May.

The review will be carried out by the Royal College of Obstetricians as well as the British Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology.
It was also shared that nearly 40 women have taken a cases against the HSE. Only three cases have been settled so far.

There are currently 35 active cases against the HSE.

Terminally-ill Emma Mhic Mhathúna recently settled her case against the HSE and a lab in the US. The mum-of-five’s case was settled for €7.5 million.

Mum-of-two Vicky Phelan also settled her case for €2.5 million.

Both mums were given incorrect smear test results, delaying their cervical cancer diagnosis.

The Cervical Check controversy has affected thousands of women in Ireland. They were not informed about a clinical audit that was carried out on their results.

It is believed that some of the woman affected by the scandal could have benefited from an early diagnosis.

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10,731 women have contacted an emergency helpline set up by the HSE over concerns raised by the recent CervicalCheck controversy. 

It's understood that thousands of women have requested re-checks after an audit revealed how 209 women were not told about inaccuracies in their results. 

The HSE confirmed last night that it has returned 1,406 calls so far, while 198 of the first group of 209 women have been contacted. 

The IMO's Dr Padraig McGarry says GPs are determined that women have their concerns addressed. .

"There's the repeat smear which is offered to patients who feel that they need it, but there's also the consultation around that because there's a lot of questions that women would like to ask their GPs and get reassurances and that's a time requirement," he said.

"We are delighted to see that this paves the way for women who have such concerns to access them without any financial burden."

 The CervicalCheck helpline can be reached on 1800 45 45 55.

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A young woman who was diagnosed with cervical cancer has shared her story online to warn others of the signs and symptoms.

Heather Keating from Tipperary was diagnosed with cancer of the cervix at just 24-years-old. 

Beforehand she went to her doctor because she was getting irregular bleeding and bleeding after sex.

Her doctor told her that since she was only 24 she wasn't eligible to get a smear test and to come back when she turns 25.

But the symptoms persisted and worsened and Heather became anaemic. It was then that she was referred to a specialist who diagnosed her with stage one cervical cancer.

This week is cervical cancer awareness week. So please share my story to let people know the importance of going for…

Posted by Heather Keating on Monday, 25 January 2016

In her message on Facebook, Heather said, "never in my wildest dreams did I think I had cancer."

Fortunately, her cancer was caught early and didn't spread. Four weeks later she was given the all-clear (you go, girl!).

But the whole experience came with a lot of pain. "That was the most dramatic emotionally painful experience of my life and no one should ever have to go through it."

Many have taken to Heather's status to wish her words of support and love:

If you or any of your loved ones have been affected by cervical cancer, you can learn more about it here

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If you're 25 or older, you've probably had your first smear test by now under the Cervical Check programme.

But even if you're under that age, you've probably heard mutterings about the dreaded smear. So what's it all about? Well, first things first, it's definitely NOT as bad as it sounds.

Here's what you'll need to know about your first smear test, and what to expect if the results are abnormal.

Why do we need a smear?
A smear test, or a cervical screening, simply tests for changes in the cells at the neck of the womb (the cervix). The cells in your vagina are a different shape to those inside the womb, so the cervix's 'transformation zone' is where any changes will be detected.

Basically, if anything looks out of place, that's where it'll be.

If left unchecked, certain cell changes can develop into cervical cancer. As these changes happen slowly, cervical cancer CAN be prevented, which is why us ladies require cervical screenings at least every three years from the age of 25 onwards.

What happens during a smear test – is it going to be super-painful?
Super-painful? No. A bit uncomfortable? Yes.

First things first, you'll be given a few minutes to get undressed from the waist down. You'll be given a gown or a paper sheet to cover up with, and asked to hop up on the exam table.

You may be asked to place your heels in stirrups, or else just to scooch down to the bottom of the table. Either way, don't get embarrassed – the doctor or nurse sees vaginas of all shapes and sizes every day.

Every. Single. Day.

Now for the fun part – the actual test. A plastic device called a speculum is inserted into your vagina, simply for the purpose of holding it open a little wider. You can expect to feel some pressure down there.

Then, a swab or brush is used to remove a sample of cells from your cervix. This is no different to any mouth swab you may have had at the dentist before, except you may feel a slight pinch as the cervix is a little more sensitive.

The gown or sheet will mean you won't see what's going on, which definitely makes things far less scary. 

Afterwards, you'll be given a small pad to wear in case of any discharge or blood spotting, but otherwise you're fine to go about your business.

Can I forget about smears for three years after that?
If your results come back normal, yes. However, in many cases, an abnormal result may be found and you'll be called to your local hospital for a Colposcopy.

This basically a closer look at the cervix, for which the doctor will use a type of microscope (it doesn't go inside you), and may also apply some liquid dye to the area to help identify changes.

A colposcopy is nothing to worry about – abnormalities are extremely common and are taken as a very early warning that further changes MAY occur to the cells if left untreated. Being called back for a colposcopy does NOT mean that you have cervical cancer.

You'll be asked for a urine sample at the hospital, so be prepared for that.

Before your colposcopy, the doctor will explain exactly what's about to happen. As with the smear, you'll be asked to get undressed from the waist down before getting onto the exam table, and the speculum will be used.

If the doctor feels an even closer look is needed, another sample of cells will be taken from the area. This is called a cervical biopsy and at most you'll feel one or two pinches down there as it's taken.

If the area of abnormal cells is larger, the doctor may use local anaesthetic to avoid any pain for you.

What happens after a colposcopy?
As with the smear, you'll be given a pad to wear for the day. If you've had a cervical biopsy, there's a "nothing up there for one week" rule – so no sex, tampons, baths or swimming. Like with any small cut or wound elsewhere on your body, the cervix needs a little time to heal.

As well as some blood spotting, you may see some watery discharge that is sometimes grey in colour (because of the product used during the colposcopy). 

If the bleeding is heavier than a normal period, you should visit your GP as there could be some infection.

Lab results can take 6 – 8 weeks to come back. If they're normal, you'll be sent an appointment for another smear in a year's time. If any pre-cancerous cells are detected, you'll be called back in to have them lasered off – another procedure that we promise sounds FAR scarier than it is.

panic animated GIF

Smear tests and all that follow might not be the most pleasant part of adult life, but they are oh-so important to preventing any health issues further down the line.

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First there were ‘no make-up’ selfies to support breast cancer and the water bucket challenge to raise money for ALS, now there is a new selfie trend!

Celebrities such as Georgia May Jagger have now joined the #SmearForSmear social media campaign, which was started by UK charity, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust in a bid to urge women to undergo smear tests.

 

Cervical Cancer Campaign #smearforsmear @JoTrust I nominate @sukiwaterhouse @caradelevingne @jasminebydesign

Ein von Georgia May Jagger (@georgiamayjagger) gepostetes Foto am

The move comes as the European Cervical Prevention Week is in full swing, with women across Ireland being urged to undergo a smear test. Cervical cancer is the second most common female cancer in Europe, with over 300 cases diagnosed in Ireland each year. 

Cervical Check Ireland have also launched their #ShareTheWisdom campaign, urging women to encourage one another to go for a smear test. 

To learn more about cervical cancer in Ireland, and find out when and where you can get your first or next smear, check out CervicalCheck.ie.

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Smear tests are so important for our health and peace of mind, but they’re definitely not something we look forward to. Like getting a filling at the dentist, or booking our next bikini wax, a smear test is something that all women anticipate with a certain sense of dread.

Although rarely painful, a smear test is usually somewhat uncomfortable. The process is a little bizarre too – a speculum (that strange duck-lips thing) is inserted into the vagina and a small cell sample is taken from your cervix using a specialised brush. Ew.

That’s why we were VERY happy to hear the news that a urine test could possibly be a viable alternative to a smear.

Researchers at the London School of Medicine and Dentistry compared the effectiveness of urine samples versus smear tests in detecting the presence of HPV – human papillomavirus, the virus that causes cervical cancer – and found that urine tests could be equally accurate.

More research is needed, but we’re hopeful!

For now though, doctors recommend a smear test every three years for anyone between the ages of 25 and 60. Luckily, smear tests are free for Irish women under the government-funded CervicalCheck programme – just contact your GP or local women’s health clinic for more information. 

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