Young women putting off smear tests due to embarrassment, study finds

Attending the check-up could save your life

Sarah Young
Monday 21 January 2019 15:30 GMT

Young women are putting off smear tests due to feelings of embarrassment, a new survey suggests.

Around 220,000 British women are diagnosed with cervical abnormalities every year and there were 854 deaths from cervical cancer in England in 2016.

But, despite the fact that cervical screening can help detect changes to cells that could eventually lead to cancer, smear test attendance is plummeting, as low as one in two among young women in some areas of the UK.

Concerned about the issues which are contributing to the decline, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust surveyed more than 2,000 women aged 25 to 35 about their experiences.

It found that of 915 women who delayed a test or had never gone for screening, 71 per cent felt scared while 75 per cent felt vulnerable.

Eight out of 10 (81 per cent) also admitted to feeling embarrassed, while 67 per cent said they would not feel in control.

When asked what had caused them to delay or miss a test, 72 per cent said embarrassment, while 69 per cent said they felt uncomfortable with a stranger examining the genital area.

Almost six in 10 (58 per cent) were scared it would hurt, while 37 per cent did not know what would happen during the test.

Of all women surveyed, 68 per cent said they would not tell their nurse about their worries, with almost half saying they regularly delayed or did not go for tests.

Other concerns among all women were a fear of being judged (18 per cent) or thinking their concerns were too silly or small (16 per cent).

As a result of the findings, the charity is launching its #SmearForSmear campaign just in time for Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (21-27 January).

Through the campaign it hopes to tackle the decline in the number of women attending smear tests by highlighting the support available to women and providing tips on how to cope if you're feeling anxious.

Robert Music, chief executive at 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.”

Dr Philippa Kaye, author, GP and ambassador of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust added: “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."

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