Cervical Cancer Screening Results Now Available Within One Month, Instead of Seven

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Patients awaiting the results of their cervical cancer screenings now only have to wait an average of 29 days for a response following their examination, RÚV reports. As of January, wait time for cervical cancer screening results was an average of 220 days, or just over seven months.

Wait times may still be longer for some patients, but Heilsugæslan höfuðborgarsvæði, the primary care clinics in the capital area, says that 99% of patients receive their results within 40 days. The shortest wait time in September was 13 days.

The administration of cervical cancer screenings in Iceland has been beset with problems over the last year. In December 2020, it was decided that samples would temporarily be sent abroad for diagnosis after a misdiagnosis led to incurable cervical cancer.

Cervical Cancer Screenings to be Processed Abroad

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Cervical samples taken for cancer screening in Iceland will be processed abroad starting next month, RÚV reports. Cancer screening will be taken over by local healthcare centres after at least one misdiagnosis was discovered at the Cancer Society. Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir says sending the samples abroad is a temporary solution as the National University Hospital currently does not have the capacity to process the cervical biopsies.

Misdiagnoses Led to Incurable Cervical Cancer

For several years, Iceland’s healthcare system has contracted out cervical and breast cancer screenings to the local Cancer Society. The contract is up at the end of this year, and in 2021 cervical cancer screening will be transferred to local healthcare clinics and breast examinations to the National University Hospital.  Six thousand samples taken by the Cancer Society are being re-evaluated after cell changes have been found in more than 50 women that were not initially detected due to a staff member’s mistake. One woman screened for cervical cancer at the Society in 2018 was misdiagnosed and now has incurable cervical cancer. A lawyer is looking into 25 similar cases that he claims could show screening mistakes are attributable to more than a single staff member.

A Temporary Solution

Svandís stated that nurses and midwives are preparing to conduct screenings at health clinics starting in January. The samples will, however, initially be analysed abroad. “Cell samples as well as HPV samples will be temporarily analysed abroad while long-term arrangements are being worked out. No final decision has been made on where the cell samples will be analysed after the temporary contract expires,” the Health Minister stated. According to Svandís, the Director of Health suggested the National Hospital take over the analysis of the samples, but the hospital is not in a position to do so immediately as it faces increased workload due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some Cancer Society staff have been offered positions at the National University Hospital, which has provided housing for screenings on Eiríksgata in Reykjavík. The facilities are expected to be ready in April of next year.

Death of a 24-year Old of Cancer Reported to the Directorate of Health

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The relatives of a 24 year old woman who died three years ago have reported her death to the Director of Health. The woman had been screened for cervical cancer at the Icelandic Cancer Society in 2013 and not notified of cell changes indicating cervical cancer. The lawyer handling the damage claim against the Icelandic Cancer Society is looking into 25 cases.

Three cases have been reported to the Director of health after mistakes during the testing process were discovered. The lawyer handling the damage claim, Sævar Þór Jónsson, is looking into 25 more cases where test analysis might have been mishandled. He says another comparable case will probably be reported to the Director of Health today, a woman who wasn’t notified of cell changes after her test in 2016. She later fell ill and was found to have incurable cancer. Sævar says there are indications that mistakes were made in sample analysis for years and the culprit is the Cancer Society’s operations, not unique employees.

Last month, a woman who was screened for cervical cancer in 2018 was found to have incurable cancer that might have been prevented had she been diagnosed earlier. Since then, the Cancer Society has been working on reexamining samples from 6,000 women. More than sixty women have been called in for further examination based on the revised test results. The Cancer Society issued a statement claiming the mistakes could be traced to one employee who had already resigned by the time the results of their mistakes were discovered. Since then, the Cancer Society’s practices have been under scrutiny. The Icelandic Cancer Society is a non-governmental organisation that has been conducting cervical cancer screenings since 1964. They receive 334 million ISK annually from the government to run the screenings.

Two years ago, a committee was formed to consider the future organisation of cancer screenings. They found that legislation on the issue needed to be more precise and that changes should be made. The healthcare authorities’ contract with the Icelandic Cancer Society is up at the end of the year, and from then on, cervical cancer screenings will be performed in local healthcare clinics and breast examinations at the National University Hospital of Iceland.

Foreign Party Will Review Cancer Society Procedures Following Misdiagnosis

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The Directorate of Health intends to hire an organisation from outside of Iceland to re-evaluate cervical samples taken by the Icelandic Cancer Society and examine whether screening procedures at the institution are satisfactory. Six thousand samples taken by the Cancer Society are being re-evaluated and cell changes have been found in more than 50 women that were not initially detected due to a staff member’s mistake.

The re-examination of the 6,000 samples began in July after it was revealed that a serious mistake had been made while examining a cervical sample in 2018. Cellular changes indicating cancer should have been detected in the sample. The woman in question now has incurable cervical cancer. Of the 50 samples that have been since found with cellular changes, none have cancer.