Cancer screening services will begin to return at the end of the month – but there is huge gap in referrals in the past 3 months.
JUST A FRACTION of cervical smears were carried out in April this year compared to the same time last year, and no BreastCheck exams were carried out in the same month.
In April 2019, the BreastCheck programme carried out 13,736 tests, and in May 2019 they carried out 13,959. There were no BreastCheck tests examined in April this year, while figures for May will not be available until late June.
The most recent published BreastCheck report (2017-18) shows that of the 165,581 people screened, 6,549 were referred for an assessment (around 4%). The number of people requiring treatment after that assessment was 1,244 (0.75%).
If you carry those percentages onto this year, it will mean that around 548 abnormalities could be missed, of which 103 need treatment.
These are according to HSE figures which can be found in reports on the National Screening Service’s website.
In April 2019, the CervicalCheck programme carried out 21,037 smear tests, and in May 2019 they carried out 17,297.
There were 937 smear tests through CervicalCheck in April this year; these samples were taken from patients in colposcopy clinic settings and were continued to be processed by CervicalCheck. Previous figures indicate that the proportion of CervicalCheck tests that reveal abnormalities is around 4.6% (based on 2016/2017 figures).
The Irish Cancer Society highlighted on Monday that more than 2,700 people are waiting for an urgent bowel cancer test, with over 300 people waiting for more than 90 days.
“It is crucially important that people are diagnosed early to make sure they have the best chance of survival and a higher quality of life after cancer,” CEO of the Irish Cancer Society Averil Power said.
The aim of cancer screening services is not to diagnose people with cancer – if you have cancerous symptoms, such as a breast lump or blood in your stool, you should book an appointment with your GP.
A screening service is an early disease detection measure to check people who have no symptoms and seem to be healthy, and assess the risk that any abnormalities found pose.
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Breast, prostate, lung and skin cancer
The other source of referrals for cancer examinations is symptomatic referrals from GP clinics: figures supplied to TheJournal.ie show that breast, prostate, lung and skin cancer dropped by 25% from March to May this year compared to the same time last year.
Skin cancer referrals have fallen by around 44% during the same three months, and still haven’t yet recovered.
In April and early May, GPs raised concerns about a drop in patients presenting with cancer symptoms at clinics across Ireland, and feared a “tsunami” of non-Covid related illnesses later in the year.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris are among those who have urged people with persistent symptoms – like a lump, rectal bleeding or chest pains – to get themselves checked urgently.
On Thursday, Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed that all cancer screening services will resume by July – starting with CervicalCheck at the end of the month. BreastCheck, BowelScreen, and Diabetic Retinopathy will then resume after that.