Smear tests provide the best protection against cervical cancer, yet one in four women don’t attend. So why are so many women not attending?
Research by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has found that embarrassment has caused over a third of young women to put off their smear test, with concerns over body shape and looking and smelling ‘normally’ getting in the way. It’s really important to remember that nurses are professionals who do hundreds of smear tests every year, so try not to let embarrassment stand in your way.
Fear of the result
Many women think that smear tests are a test for cancer, which can sound quite daunting, but it is actually a test that can prevent cancer. Around 94% of results are clear, with the rest usually needing treatment for non-cancerous abnormal cells
Worries it will be painful
While smear tests are not pleasant, they shouldn’t be painful. If you do find it painful, tell your nurse and they can help make it as comfortable as possible, for example by using a smaller speculum and talking you through what’s happening.
Being unaware of their risk
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35, but two thirds of young women are unaware they are in the most at risk group.
Experience of sexual violence
Smear tests can be very difficult for women who have experienced any form of sexual violence. It may feel too distressing to tell the smear taker about your experience and the test itself may also trigger flashbacks or cause emotional distress. Organisations like Rape Crisis can help you process these feelings, while My Body Back has specialist clinics for survivors.
Being a lesbian or bisexual women, or a trans man
There are some myths about smear tests and sexuality, including that you don’t need one if you are lesbian or bisexual. This is wrong! Anyone with a cervix should be offered a smear test. This is also true for trans men who still have a cervix. Specialist organisations, like the LGBT Foundation and CliniQ, can help with any emotional or physical difficulties.
Don’t think it’s important if they’ve had the HPV vaccine
The vaccine prevents 70% of cervical cancers, so if you have had it, you have a reduced risk. But the vaccine doesn’t provide full protection, which is why smear tests are still important.
Don’t know why smear tests are important
Over a third of young women don’t think you can reduce your risk of cervical cancer and 20% of women over 50 don’t think that smear tests reduce risk of the disease. Smear tests actually prevent 75% of cervical cancers from developing.
Finding it difficult to get to an appointment
Among women who have delayed or not attended, a quarter find it too hard to make an appointment and over a third wouldn't go if they had to take time off work. Employers can sign up to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust ‘Time to Test’ campaign, pledging to allow female employees the time to attend their smear tests.
We lead busy lifestyles and a smear test invite can easily become something that is put off until later.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is launching its smear test awareness campaign #SmearForSmear, during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (22-28 January). The campaign asks women to share lipstick smeared selfies with the message that smear tests save lives. A post could be the reminder or encouragement that a woman needs to attend. It could save a life. www.jostrust.org.uk/smearforsmear
If you need support or would like further information, contact Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust: www.jostrust.org.uk