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Cervical cancer

1. Why you are offered a free cervical screening test
2. What causes abnormal cells in the cervix
3. Cervical cancer
4. Benefits and limitations of screening
5. The CervicalCheck screening programme


Cervical cancer is a cancer of the cervix (neck of the womb).

Cells of the cervix can become abnormal and change slowly after many years to become cancer. But because they change at a slow rate, this can make cervical cancer preventable.

You can reduce your risk of cervical cancer by:

  • having regular screening tests to pick up any early cell changes
  • quitting smoking
  • talking to your GP about any concerns or symptoms

Every year in Ireland about 300 women get cervical cancer. Ninety women die from it.

In women aged 25 to 39 years, cervical cancer is the second most common cause of death due to cancer.

Symptoms to be aware of

You should contact your GP immediately if you have any symptoms of cervical cancer. Even if you have had a recent normal screening result, never ignore symptoms.

Symptoms of cervical cancer include:

  • a pain in your pelvis (anywhere between your bellybutton and the tops of your thighs)
  • irregular vaginal bleeding
  • bleeding between periods
  • vaginal spotting or discharge
  • pain during sex
  • bleeding after sex

Women of all ages can develop cervical cancer, but it mostly affects women aged 30 to 45 who are sexually active. Cervical cancer is very rare in women under 25. The disease doesn't run in families.

Population-based screening

Population-based screening is where we offer a test to people in a target group.

This target group is often defined by age. They are people who are:

  • most likely to benefit from screening
  • do not have any symptoms of the disease they are being screened for
  • are otherwise healthy

Screening is a way of finding out if they are at greater risk of a disease before it has developed and shown symptoms.

In cervical screening, women aged 25 to 60 years old who have ever been sexually active will benefit most from screening.

Read why we don't offer screening to women under the age of 25.

If you are aged 25 to 60, having cervical screening tests when they are due is very important. They can help find out if you are at greater risk of developing cervical cancer in the future.

We can then offer you information, further tests or treatment if you need it. This can greatly reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer.

But cervical screening, like all screening, is not perfect.

Some women will still develop cervical cancer despite regular screening.