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Barriers to cervical screening among 25-29 year olds

With cervical screening (smear test) uptake falling year on year, and one in three young women who are invited to their first cervical screening not taking up their invitation, we wanted to find out more about why these women don't attend and what they know about the test.

Total sample size was 3,002 women aged 25 – 29. Fieldwork was undertaken by Censuswide between 27 October – 03 November 2016.  The survey was carried out online.

Cervical screening provides the best protection against cervical cancer as it can prevent up to 75% of all cervical cancer from developing. It is estimated that the NHS cervical screening programme saves around 5,000 lives a year. However, in England cervical screening is currently at a 19 year low with only 72.7% of women attending their screening in 2015/16. Uptake drops even lower among 25-29 olds of which only 63.3% attended equating to almost a quarter of a million young women not taking up their invitation in England.

Key findings include:

  • Over a quarter (26.7%) are too embarrassed to attend cervical screening
  • Over two thirds (70%) don’t think cervical screenings reduce a woman’s risk of cervical cancer 
  • 72% of the 25-29 year olds surveyed do not feel comfortable getting undressed in front of doctors or nurses however in stark contrast just under one in ten (8.4%) would consider surgery to alter the way their genitals look
  • Over half (51%) of the women surveyed reported delaying or not attending screening with almost one quarter (24%) admitting they have delayed for over one year and almost one in ten (9%) having never attended the test
  • Reasons for not attending include simply putting it off (33%), worrying it would be embarrassing (27%), or worrying it would be painful (25%).

The results of the survey were published during 2017's Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (22-28 January) to launch our #SmearForSmear campaign for the third year. The campaign aims to tackle many of the barriers highlighted in the survey including embarrassment in talking about and to educate women about the role of the test in preventing cervical cancer.

See full survey results

Read the press release on the survey

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Date last updated: 
19 Jul 2019