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Smear test fears causing hidden health crisis for Millennials

Mon, 21/01/2019 - 07:37


New research has found young women who delay or don’t go for cervical screening (smear tests) feel scared (71%) and vulnerable (75%) at the thought of going. While embarrassment remains high (81%), a worrying two thirds (67%) say they would not feel in control at the prospect of a test.

With smear test attendance plummeting, and as low as one in two among young women in some areas of the UK, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has uncovered a wide range of new issues which it fears are contributing to the decline.

The charity is concerned that over two thirds (68%) of the 2,005 25-35 year olds questioned say they wouldn’t tell their nurse their smear test worries, with almost half admitting they regularly delay or don’t take up their invitation. Worries about making a fuss (27%), fear of being judged (18%) or thinking their concerns are too silly or small (16%) mean women may instead be avoiding a potentially life-saving test.

The charity is launching its #SmearForSmear campaign during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (21-27 January) to tackle the decline and acknowledge the fact that going for a smear test can be difficult. Through the campaign it wants to highlight the support available to women as well as tips to make the test better.

Robert Music, Chief Executive, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said: “Smear tests provide the best protection against cervical cancer yet we know they aren’t always easy. We want women to feel comfortable talking to their nurse and asking questions. It’s not making a fuss and there are many ways to make the test easier. Please don’t let your fears stop you booking a test.”

When asked what has caused them to delay or miss a test, three quarters (72%) said embarrassment or a stranger examining an intimate area (69%). Fear it will hurt (58%), not knowing how to talk to a stranger about intimate body parts (44%) and not knowing what will happen during the test (37%) were also given as reasons by high numbers of women.

Robert continued “Our research has again highlighted the urgent need for making the programme more patient-focused. We want to see self-sampling being made available as well as more flexible locations for women to attend. It’s vital women have more control otherwise we will see attendance continue to fall and diagnoses of this often-preventable cancer increase.”

Further findings include:

  • High numbers of women who attend regular tests still feel body conscious (67%), scared (43%), vulnerable (46%) and not in control (36%) before their test
  • When asked about their biggest worries, those who delay or don’t attend said a stranger examining an intimate area (57% vs 40% who always attend), general embarrassment (54% v 35%) and fear it will hurt (44% vs 36%)
  • While smear tests are the best protection against cervical cancer, fear of the disease is worryingly high among those who don’t attend or delay (40%)
  • Fear of cancer appears to motivate those who always go, cited by 60% as one of their biggest worries
  • Feeling vulnerable and not in control was high among the full sample as during their test 28% would feel uncomfortable asking the nurse to stop and 27% saying if it hurt
  • 27% wouldn’t say if they felt nervous or scared and 18% would feel uncomfortable asking what the nurse is doing during the test
  • 19% of the full sample wouldn’t raise their worries as they don’t think the nurse would be able to do anything about it anyway

Lindsay was 29 when she was diagnosed with stage 1b cervical cancer:

"I had my first ever smear test when I was 29, so I had actually put it off for seven years. I had ignored all my invitations for lots of reasons - partly I was busy at work and was looking after my young child but I was also a bit scared and really embarrassed about getting undressed in front of a stranger. The idea made me feel vulnerable and so I just didn't go. I had to have a hysterectomy to treat the cancer which meant I can't have any more children, this is still really hard to cope with. Please don't miss your smear test. A minute of feeling awkward is nothing compared to what I've been through and there are lots of things you can do to make the test better. "

Dr Phillippa Kaye, author, GP and Ambassador of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust: “Across the UK nurses and doctors take millions of smear tests every year. We honestly don’t think about what you’re wearing, what you look like, whether or not you’ve shaved - we just want to offer the best test we can to as many women as possible. We’ve seen and heard it all before and want to put your mind at ease if you have questions or concerns. Ask the things you want to know and remember you can say stop any time - it’s your test.”


For further comment, interviews or case studies please contact [email protected] or call 020 3096 8000 / 07772 290064

Notes to editors


Survey of 2,005 women aged 25-35 conducted by Censuswide from 10.12.18 to 14.12.1, of whom 1,037 say they always attend smear tests when invited, 497 who attend but often put it off, 197 who are currently delaying and 211 have been invited but never attended. 38 had never been invited

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week runs from 21-27 January 2019 and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust’s smear test awareness campaign #SmearForSmear is running during the week www.jostrust.org.uk/smearforsmear.

The campaign asks people to share lipstick smeared selfies or a short film https://youtu.be/ZLVjDj1we1c to raise awareness that smear tests prevent cervical cancer and provide tips to make the test better. It could be the reminder or encouragement someone needs to book their test. It could save a life.

About Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust (www.jostrust.org.uk) is the UK’s only dedicated charity offering support and information to women of all ages and their loved ones affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities. The National Helpline is on 0808 802 8000.

About cervical cancer

The majority (99.7%) of cervical cancers are caused by persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection which causes changes to the cervical cells

220,000 UK women are diagnosed with cervical abnormalities each year

Over 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 890 women lose their lives every year

Around 5 million UK women are invited to cervical screening each year yet one in four do not attend

Women aged 25-49 are invited every three years and women aged 50-64 are invited every five years