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Published: 03 May 2024

In conversation with colposcopist Natasha Mahon: “I’m proud to be supporting Ireland’s goal to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040”

Natasha Mahon, Clinical Midwife Manager (CMM2) and accredited colposcopist, The National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, Dublin

Natasha Mahon, Clinical Midwife Manager (CMM2) and accredited colposcopist at The National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, Dublin, tells us how she has rooted herself in women’s health, from training initially in midwifery and post-natal care, to finding a real interest in colposcopy and cervical cancer prevention and treatment.

By Hannah Molloy, Communications Team, National Screening Service

“It’s a rewarding job” Natasha says, talking about a typical day at work. “When I meet a woman and start talking to her and taking her medical history, I focus on putting her mind at ease. I want to demystify the colposcopy process for her and really pick away at the assumptions many women come in with so they can feel more confident about it.”

Developing a trusting relationship with women from that first conversation is important, Natasha says. “Colposcopy is an intimate exam with a stranger. We know that women can be worried and anxious, and sometimes scared about attending. It’s our job to reassure them. To take that time to talk through those anxieties and answer any questions.”

Colposcopy is an examination to take a close look at a woman’s cervix. Women are referred to colposcopy after cervical screening if they have HPV found and abnormal cells detected; or if they have HPV found after two consecutive HPV tests, 12 months apart, with no abnormal cells detected. A nurse colposcopist or doctor will take a look at the cervix to confirm if there are abnormal cells. This helps them decide what, if any, treatment is necessary.

“I get asked questions like ‘what is HPV’ and ‘how did I get it’. Women who have been going for their screening for years often say they are shocked that they are in colposcopy, so for me it’s about reassuring them that they have done the right thing. This is why screening and the pathway to colposcopy is there, to catch abnormal cells before they become cancerous.”

Natasha says we don’t talk about colposcopy enough, even among our own friends. “A lot of women get referred to colposcopy and I want to remove the stigma of the exam. I want it to be discussed more openly.” Natasha encourages women to pick up the phone if they have questions. “We are here to help you. Part of my work is to ring patients about their colposcopy so if you have any questions before or after attending, get in touch with your colposcopy team. We are a very approachable group. Talk to us and make sure your questions are answered.”

Natasha talks about her work promoting cervical screening among her colleagues in the workplace. She organised an information stand in the hospital for Cervical Cancer Prevention Week this year. “Because my background is midwifery, I want to educate midwives about HPV and how confident we can be in the changes to cervical screening and the HPV test. There are many opportunities for them to talk to patients in the hospital about this life-saving screening service. We should all stand behind screening.”

It's important, Natasha says, to talk to women about reducing the risk of developing cervical cancer. “As healthcare professionals, we love an educational moment with our patient. I always advise women to attend their cervical screening every time they’re invited and to attend any follow-up tests needed.”

Natasha finishes by talking about her passion for her job. ‘’I work very closely with an amazing multidisciplinary team in The National Maternity Hospital, a compassionate and encouraging team, supportive of women’s healthcare.

“I’m proud to be supporting Ireland’s goal to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040. Women’s healthcare is my passion, and we’re lucky to live in a country that has a world class cervical screening programme, a HPV vaccination programme and expert care and treatment for women who need it. This is something we should all be proud of. It’s an exciting time and I look forward to the day when I’m treating less women as cervical cancer becomes rare in this country.’’