There has been a massive increase in the number of Irish women seeking screening for cervical cancer since reality TV star Jade Goody announced that she had the disease.

According to Alison Begas, chief executive of the Dublin Well Woman centres, "There has been an increase of about 60% over the last four weeks." While weekly screens accumulated to 190 by 8 February, they were up to 332 by 1 March.

Despite the fact that it has been available and free of charge since September last year, the cervical screening programme initially sparked little interest among eligible women aged 25 to 60.

Begas believes the sudden change was caused by "a combination of reactions to the coverage on Jade Goody [and] television advertisements". The National Screening
Cancer Service launched an extensive information and advertisement campaign in February.

Goody has decided to fight her losing battle against cancer in the public eye, in order to make as much money as possible in her last weeks to provide for the education of her sons, Bobby (4) and Freddy (5). The 27-year old's fate has created the "Jade Goody effect" which has brought cervical cancer to women's attention.

In Ireland, more than 200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually. Ninety-five percent of cervical cancers are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV).

The disease can be prevented by the administration of a vaccine, but last year the government cancelled plans to sponsor the vaccination of 12-year-old girls across Ireland due to budgetary concerns. Begas regretted the decision and called it "a very short-sighted position".

The vaccine costs €600 per head. The Well Woman centre is running an initiative in Coolock, Dublin, that provides it for €240.

Begas expressed the hope that this initiative would prove the vaccine was necessary in addition to the screening program. "We hope to use the vaccine as a second weapon in the fight against cervical cancer. [It's] a great complementary tool," she said.