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Women too embarrassed to attend smear tests  

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YOUNG women are too embarrassed to attend smear tests according to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

The most common reasons for not attending smear tests were because of their body shape(35%), the appearance of their vulva (34%) and concerns over smelling ‘normally’ (38%). In a new survey of 25-35 year old women, a third (31%) admitted they wouldn’t go if they hadn’t waxed or shaved their bikini area.

A third (35%) of the 2,017 women surveyed said embarrassment has caused them to delay attending and high numbers do not prioritise the potentially life-saving test as one in six (16%) would rather miss their smear test than a gym class and one in seven (14%) a waxing appointment.

The statistics in Warrington for women attending their smear tests:

  • 25-64 year olds: 74.2%
  • 25-49 year olds: 72.9%
  • 50-64 year olds: 76.8%

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is concerned that body image issues, including perception of what is ‘normal’, could be putting lives in danger. Across the UK, one in four eligible women (aged 25-64) do not take up their smear test invitation, this rises to one in three among 25-29 year olds and is even as high as one in two in some areas of the UK. The charity is releasing its new data at the start of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (22-28 January) to launch its smear test campaign #SmearForSmear.

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “Smear tests prevent 75% of cervical cancers so it is a big worry that so many young women, those who are most at risk of the disease, are unaware of the importance of attending. It is of further concern that body worries are contributing to non-attendance. Please don’t let unhappiness or uncertainty about your body stop you from attending what could be a life-saving test. Nurses are professionals who carry out millions of tests every year, they can play a big part in ensuring women are comfortable.”

The charity is also concerned that not enough is being done to increase access and attendance of cervical screening on a local level.

Robert, continues: “Every area has different demographics, pressures and geography. Local activity is therefore critical to ensuring turning around the downward trend in coverage. There is already so much great work being done across the UK, however if this is not amplified and prioritised, we will continue to see a decline in cervical screening coverage and ultimately lives lost.”

Cancer Minister Steve Brine said: “We must all take a stand against cancer, that’s why I’m pleased to support this campaign so we can continue to see cancer survival rates improve and more cases prevented. Lives can be saved if women book an appointment for cervical screening when invited. Our NHS doctors and nurses are always on hand to offer guidance and support if women need to discuss that decision.”

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35, yet the charity’s survey of 2,017 women aged 25-35 found almost two thirds (61%) are unaware they are in the most at risk age group for the disease. Worryingly high numbers do not understand that smear tests can prevent cervical cancer as a third (37%) do not think you can reduce your risk of the disease and, despite low screening attendance among the age group, almost every woman (94%) said they would have a free test to prevent cancer if available.

  • Among those who have delayed or not attended, a quarter (26%) find it too hard to make an appointment and over a third (35%) wouldn’t go if they had to take time off work
  • 20% have delayed because they would prefer not to know if something was wrong (34% of those who have delayed or never attended)
  • 30% of those who have never attended a smear test are unsure where to go for a test
  • Over one in six (17%) think smear tests are important however were unsure why (35%) in those who have never attended)
  • One in ten (11%) don’t think smear tests are important if you have had the HPV vaccine
  • Among women who have delayed or not attended, half (50%) are embarrassed to attend because of weight or body shape (35% of full sample), over half (54%) about having a ‘normal’ smell (38% of full sample) and half (48%) because they don’t like how their vulva looks (34% of full sample) or don’t think it looks ‘normal’ (39% compared to 28% of full sample).
  • A quarter (24%) do not think they are at risk of cancer because they lead a healthy lifestyle

Lindsay was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 29, she said: “I had my first ever smear at 29 because I had ignored all my previous invitations. I was too busy with a baby and a small child, working and I didn’t like the thought of having to get naked in front of anyone I didn’t know. I don’t want other women to have to go through what I experienced, diagnosis and treatment was awful. I needed a radical hysterectomy and still struggle with some side effects of treatment today. Please don’t put off your smear test, the alternative is so much worse.”

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