Only 5% of Irish women have kn,owledge of the cervical cancer virus, in spite of the fact four out of five women will be affected by it at some point in their lives, it was revealed today.
A new cervical cancer vaccine has been developed to fight the HPV virus.
Estimates have shown that Ireland has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in Europe with around 1,000 new cases of pre-cancer cells found each year with around 200 cases developing into cervical cancer and causing the death of about 70 women.
A seminar at the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin warned health chiefs and politicians that about 25% of Irish women wrongly believe that cervical cancer cannot be prevented.
In addition the seminar also claimed that only one in five women are aware of the HPV virus and just 5% of women know that it causes cervical cancer.
International health experts claimed Ireland was now in a position to develop a strategy to eliminate the killer disease.
Susan Crosby of the Women in Government group from the United States, said: "Cervical cancer can be our first victory in the war on cancer. By ensuring that women are educated about this disease and the virus that causes it, and that they have access to preventive technologies, regardless of socio-economic status, we can ensure that no more women die of this preventable disease."
While the risk of cervical cancer exists for all sexually active women, up to four out of five women will catch HPV at some point in their lives. While most infections clear naturally, some may persist and lead to cancer.
GlaxoSmithKline, the seminar sponsors, found that less than three quarters of Irish women aged 18 to 55 had undergone at least one smear test in their lifetime.
Test rates were low among young women aged 18-24 but compliance among women aged 35-44 ran at more than 90%. Just over a quarter of Irish women 27.25% have never had a smear test.
Pamela Morton, director of cervical cancer charity Jo's Trust, urged policy makers, the Department of Health, the HSE and GPs to push for a vaccination programme.
She said, "This is a unique opportunity for a cancer to be prevented in future generations and one that should not be delayed."