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Smear test: Fear, pain and misunderstanding keep women from undergoing a life-saving procedure

Screenings could prevent 80 per cent of cervical cancer deaths. But a decade after the ‘Jade Goody effect’, the number of women going for a test is lower than ever. Rachael Revesz speaks to women and doctors about why this is happening

Monday 25 March 2019 11:00 GMT
A new campaign is raising awareness, but is it enough?
A new campaign is raising awareness, but is it enough? (Illustration by Dilruba Tayfun)

In March 2009, when reality television star Jade Goody died of cervical cancer at the age of 27, it sent shockwaves around the country. Cervical screenings saw a massive spike. In 2008-09, samples from women checking for abnormal cells shot up by 400,000.

But the so-called Jade Goody effect was short-lived. Today, 10 years on from Goody’s death, the number of women going for their routine cervical screening test is at a 20-year low. Data from Public Health England (PHE) shows that over one in four women eligible for a screening do not make an appointment after receiving their reminder letter. For younger women in London, this rises to one in two. Yet around 690 women die each year in England from cervical cancer. The sad news is that PHE estimates 83 per cent of those deaths could be prevented if everyone went to their screening.

Young women between 25 to 49 are supposed to get tested every three years, but getting an appointment can be difficult. As Charlotte, a 30-year-old picture editor, says, trying to fit in a cervical screening around work in London is not easy, especially when the nurses who perform the test only visit her clinic once a week, on varying days.

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