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Embarrassment preventing young women from attending a test that could save their life

Mon, 23/01/2017 - 14:44
  • Almost a quarter of a million women aged 25-29 did not attend their smear test in England last year
  • Over two thirds are unaware of the role of smear tests in preventing cervical cancer

Over a quarter (26.7%) of young women are too embarrassed to attend smear tests and over two thirds (70%) don’t think they reduce a woman’s risk of cervical cancer according to new research[1] by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

Almost three quarters (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. The charity is concerned that anxiety over external appearance may be stopping women from putting their health first and increasing their risk of life-threatening cervical cancer.

The charity is releasing the new research at the start of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (22-28 January) and is relaunching its award winning #SmearForSmear campaign[2] to raise awareness of the importance of attending potentially life-saving smear tests.

Over half (51%) of the women surveyed reported delaying or not attending smear tests 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 included simply putting it off (33%), worrying it would be embarrassing (27%), worrying it would be painful (25%), feeling uncomfortable taking off their clothes in front of a stranger (25%) and not being comfortable with how their body (16.2%), or genitals specifically (13%), look.

Robert Music, Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “Smear tests prevent 75% of cervical cancers from developing yet over 220,000 of the 25-29 year olds invited for a smear test in England in the last year did not attend[3]. Every woman is invited for a smear test from the age of 25 and this test can literally save a life. We want to ensure smear tests are not something women are ashamed or scared of talking about, or do not think are important to attend.”

Further findings of the survey include:

  • A lack of awareness of the symptoms of cervical cancer with one in five (24%) unable to recognise a single symptom and only half (51%) recognising bleeding outside of periods (the most common symptom) as one.
  • Perception over the purpose of smear tests was also low, as only half (46%) knew it looks for pre-cancerous cells and almost a quarter (23%) incorrectly think it is a test for ovarian cancer.
  • When asked what increases your risk of cervical cancer, almost two thirds (63%) incorrectly said family history of the disease and one in four (23%) said being overweight.
  • Of those who reported delaying or never attending, 57% would like the opportunity to attend a smear test at GP practice of their choice e.g. one close to work, 35% would like the opportunity to attend a walk in appointment at a sexual health clinic[4] and 65% would like the opportunity to self sample and return their sample to get tested.

Robert continued: “The number of women attending smear tests is at a 19 year low and the number of women being diagnosed is worryingly high. We simply cannot afford for this to continue. #SmearForSmear aims to tackle some of the stigma and misconceptions that exist around smear tests and to encourage more women to attend. By not attending smear tests young women are increasing their risk of developing a disease that claims three lives every day in the UK.”

Emma was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014: “My second ever smear test was due in December of 2013 and I meant to call the doctors straight away after receiving the invitation but then Christmas happened and I just forgot about it. I started to have irregular bleeding which made it hard to book a smear test so it wasn’t until six months later (June 2014) that I actually had my smear test appointment. The results came back as irregular and I was invited for a colposcopy where I had a Lletz procedure straight. Two weeks passed with no further results so I was feeling very hopeful but then at three weeks and one day I received a letter saying I had an appointment at the hospital’s gynaecology department. I tried to prepare myself for the worst outcome, but when the doctor told me I had stage 1b1 cervical cancer my world fell apart. I was told I needed a radical hysterectomy which I had in November 2014. Luckily after the surgery, the margins were clear and I was declared cancer free. That smear test saved my life and it’s so important to me now to spread awareness about the importance of attending.”



For more information, case studies or interviews please contact [email protected] or 020 7250 8311 / 07772 290 064

[1] Survey of 3,002 women aged 25-29 conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust between 27th October 2016 and 3rd November 2016. Surveys were conducted from a random sample of a representative panel across the UK.  

[4] Respondents were asked to rate where they would prefer to have their smear test appointment in terms of preference. For each option preferences 1 and 2 have been grouped