Move to HPV testing would be a welcome step in battle against cervical cancer

The Irish Cancer Society has today welcomed the findings of the Health information and Quality Authority’s (HIQA) assessment of cervical screening in Ireland, which advises a move to primary HPV testing to detect cervical cancer in women.

HIQA’s Health technology assessment (HTA) of human papillomavirus (HPV) testing as the primary screening method for prevention of cervical cancer found HPV testing to be more accurate in detecting precancerous abnormalities and early stage cervical cancer.

HPV testing would also reduce the number of screenings a woman would need in her lifetime, while women would experience no change in how the cervical screening sample is collected.

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Commenting on the findings, which will be submitted to Ireland’s national cervical screening programme CervicalCheck and the Minister for Health for review, Head of Research at the Irish Cancer Society and member of the Expert Advisory Group for this assessment Dr Robert O’Connor said:

“This year in Ireland it is estimated that 90 women will die from cervical cancer. A further 280 will be diagnosed with this serious illness, with four in ten of them succumbing to this disease within five years.  What’s more, 6,500 Irish women will need hospital treatment to remove precancerous growths in their cervix. HPV causes all of these conditions.

“Since its introduction in 2008, CervicalCheck has provided a very successful screening programme that has undoubtedly saved lives. HIQA’s latest assessment, however, shows that the service can reach an even higher world-leading standard with the introduction of primary HPV testing.

“Young women and girls who have received the HPV vaccination are fully protected against the strains of HPV that cause seven in ten of all cervical cancers. It is important to note that, while significantly less likely to develop cervical cancer, availing of cervical screening – whether that is through the HPV test or the current liquid-based cytology process – is still recommended for these women so that any signs of the cancer can be spotted early and treated before they become a threat to their lives.

“It should also be noted that, should primary HPV testing become a reality in Ireland, it by no means would replace HPV vaccination. Screening can detect cancerous and pre-cancerous cells, but treatment to remove these cells can be harsh and extremely invasive. What’s more, detection through screening is no guarantee of survival. Vaccination, on the other hand, can stop these cancerous cells from developing in the first place. It is guaranteed to save lives, and the more people who are vaccinated, the more effective it will be for the population at large.

“The women of Ireland deserve the best possible services when it comes to the prevention and early detection of cancer. A move towards primary HPV testing gives them this. We call on the Minister for Health to heed HIQA’s advice and move CervicalCheck to this form of testing, which is in the best interests of all women in Ireland.”

For more information on cervical screening, see