Young women skipping the Pap smear test due to embarrassment

The Pap smear test is one of the easiest ways to screen young women for cervical cancer. Cervical cancer kills thousands of women and if detected early can be treated successfully. A new problem has arisen however with the smear test. Many young women are embarrassed about getting a Pap smear test routinely to screen against cervical cancer.

Pap Smear. Image Credit: Iryna Inshyna / Shutterstock
Pap Smear. Image Credit: Iryna Inshyna / Shutterstock

Pap smears are routinely performed for all young women in various countries, screening them against the deadly cervical cancer that kills many. The screening involves taking a smear of the cervical lining on a swab. This smear is then examined under the microscope for cell structure and morphology. The changes in the cells of the cervix helps pick up clues to impending cancer. Women however find the test an invasion into their privacy. Many women find it gross, scary and intrusive. The intrusiveness of the speculum and swab often makes many women skip their tests. Further negative word-of-mouth propaganda against the convenience of the test often puts women off. This means that there is a marked decline in the number of women taking the test.

New statistics have shown that cervical cancer screening rates are lowest now in the last two decades among all age groups of women. At present five million women are overdue for their Pap smear tests. Further only 65 percent women under the age of 35 years have taken up the latest screening invitation.

A charity called the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust looked at over 2,000 women between ages 25 and 35 years and noted that of the 915 women delayed their test or never went for their scheduled test. Reason cited by them was fear among 71 percent and feeling of vulnerability among 75 percent of them. They noted that 81 percent of the women felt embarrassed and 67 percent felt they had no control. Further 69 percent women said they would feel uncomfortable if a stranger examined their genital area. A whopping 37 percent did not have a clue as to what would be done during the test and 58 percent wrongly believed that the test would hurt. Of the women surveyed, 68 percent decided not to share their worries with their nurse and around 50 percent delayed or missed their tests. The charity is now launching its #SmearForSmear campaign in time for Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (21-27 January).

Dr Philippa Kaye, author, GP and ambassador of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said, “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.”

The Public Health England (PHE) is set to launch a campaign called “Be Clear On Cancer”, this March urging young women to get tested. As part of the campaign there would be social media ads and ads on the television as well.

Cervical cancer affects thousands of women with 3,000 new cases in the UK annually and 1000 deaths annually. Screening against this cancer can save around 5000 lives a year. The campaign is supported by the NHS and asks women not to be afraid of the smear test.  This week (21st to 27th of January) is the Cervical Cancer Prevention Week.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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