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HSE’s new cervical screening review process endorsed in IARC report

By Reporter - 05th Jul 2023

The HSE, the Department of Health and the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) met in Dublin today to launch the agency’s report, Recommendations of Best Practices in Cervical Screening Programmes.

The recommendations follow the completion of the CervScreen Project, a collaborative initiative between IARC, the Department of Health and the HSE. The recommendations focus on the audit of cervical cancers, the legal and ethical framework of cervical screening, communication and workforce competencies.

To mark the completion of the project, representatives from IARC and its Irish partners met with project stakeholders and international academics for a forum on its recommendations.

IARC and its partners in Ireland carried out the CervScreen Project to address global issues relating to the quality and coverage of cervical screening programmes. As part of the project, IARC and the Irish authorities formed three technical working groups, comprising experts in the areas of public health, implementation and quality improvement of cancer screening, health communication, national and international laws governing relevant medicolegal issues, and regulations in data protection.

Chief Executive of the National Screening Service, Ms Fiona Murphy, said: “We were delighted to be able to involve our stakeholders in this project, including a number of patient representatives, who met with IARC and the working group Chairs as they developed their recommendations.

“We are grateful that their views and experiences have influenced these recommendations which define best practice in screening programmes internationally. Participating in the CervScreen Project has given the National Screening Service the opportunity to reflect on the important areas considered by the working groups, and gain access to relevant international experts, as well as the expertise of the IARC team.

“We know there is variation between countries concerning cervical cancer audit. It is our hope that other countries will be able to use this report to inform their thinking. The report provides an interval cancer rate definition, which we would use in collaboration with our international colleagues.”

Discussing the National Screening Service’s recent introduction of personal cervical screening reviews, Ms Murphy said: “The report endorses Ireland’s approach to offering personalised reviews to women who have had a cancer diagnosis and have come for screening in the past. This process is a new development for the CervicalCheck programme, and it is exciting to see it identified as a recommendation for screening programmes internationally.

“Our new personal cervical screening reviews take a restorative approach, answering women’s questions around their screening journey. It will be important to evaluate our review process as the first women begin to go through the process this year.”

The summary report contains recommendations on the following aspects of a cervical screening programme:

  • conducting an audit of cervical cancers;
  • establishing legal and ethical frameworks to safeguard the interests of screening participants, health professionals, and programme managers associated with cervical screening;
  • developing a strategy for effective and transparent communication with target populations and other stakeholders about the benefits, risks, and limitations of cervical screening; and
  • establishing a framework for developing workforce competencies in communication.

The summary report was developed following a review of the scientific literature and based on the opinions of technical experts from home and abroad who were convened through three technical working groups.

Concluding, Ms Murphy said: “The report outlines how screening information should communicate the fact that screening is a personal choice and explain the benefits, risks and limitations of screening. Since 2020, we have been working to communicate the benefits and harms of population screening equally, providing clear information on the potential positive and negative effects of screening.

“We will be guided by the IARC recommendations as we continue to build long-lasting trust in the programme, respecting the autonomy and decisions of every screening participant.”

The full report is available here: https://publications.iarc.fr/625

The summary report is available here: https://www.iarc.who.int/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/CervScreen-Project-summary-brochure.pdf

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