News from the Director’s Office - May 2018

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News from the Director’s Office this month is all about the ever present CervicalCheck story. As a woman and a public health professional I have a personal and professional responsibility to do my part to limit the damage that is a potential consequence of this runaway story.

Here it is unpacked in plain speak. Screening (of any kind) is imperfect. As such every screening produces false negatives (a result that indicates a given condition is not present when it is) and false positives (a result that indicates a given condition is present when it is not). This is the nature of the beast, cannot be changed but can and (to be responsible) must be weighed against the overall public health benefit. There is no question detecting cancers earlier is a good thing. Early detection increases the likelihood of there being more effective treatment options and thus better outcomes. Getting a pap smear does not diagnose cervical cancer it triggers a further investigation that leads to diagnosis – likely earlier diagnosis than without it.

Women in Ireland are lucky to have publicly funded cervical screening. This is a luxury I have not experienced in any other country that I have lived in. I believe it demonstrates the correct priorities of a society when public funds are targeted towards saving lives (the essence of public health). Investing in effective public health measures is what Ireland has correctly done with its screening programmes – let’s not lose sight of that. We must mitigate the potential damage to women Ireland-wide.

Women not seeking screening are guaranteeing they won’t have a chance of early detection. They risk symptomatic later detection and worse outcomes. To all women in Ireland: please don’t let misinformation or political volleying of the CervicalCheck issue stop you from getting screened.

#GetScreened – screening saves lives!

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