Fear and embarrassment are causing smear test numbers to plummet

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A UK survey of more than 2,000 young women has shown that many delay or avoid having a smear test due to feeling scared, vulnerable, embarrassed or not being in control.

Photo of doctor holding smear sample and woman in background - test for cervical cancer - By Image Point FrImage Point Fr | Shutterstock

The survey, which was conducted by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, also revealed that many women are put off by the thought of being examined by a stranger.

Current estimates show that cervical screening rates are at the lowest they have been in two decades, with around one-third of women aged between 25 and 64 not complying with the NHS recommendations that women aged 25 to 49 have a smear test every three years and those aged 50 to 64 have a test every five years.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is now launching a campaign #SmearForSmear as part of the Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (running from 21st to 27th January) in an effort to address the decline in screening rates and recognise the wide range of new issues that seem to be contributing to the problem.

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 is vital women have more control otherwise we will see attendance continue to fall and diagnoses of this often-preventable cancer increase.”

Robert Music, CEO, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

The survey data revealed that of 2,005 women aged 25 to 35, almost half (46%) regularly delayed or avoided taking up their invitation to have a smear test. The reasons those women gave included feeling scared (71%), vulnerable (75%), embarrassed (81%) or as if they would not be in control (67%).

When asked what led them to miss or delay a test, 69% said the thought of having an intimate area examined by a stranger made them feel uncomfortable; 58% said they feared pain and 31% said they were unaware what the test would entail.

The data also revealed that almost 30% of the women would feel awkward asking the nurse to stop or saying the procedure was hurting, 18% would feel uncomfortable asking what the nurse is doing, and 19% would not share their concerns with the nurse.

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.”

Robert Music, CEO, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally first developed an interest in medical communications when she took on the role of Journal Development Editor for BioMed Central (BMC), after having graduated with a degree in biomedical science from Greenwich University.


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