Body shame cutting smear tests

Around 5 million UK women are invited to cervical screening each year, yet one in four do not attend to have smear tests. Regular cervical screening can reduce the risk of this largely preventable disease. However, research carried out by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has revealed that body shame is responsible for many young women not attending smear tests. 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.

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.

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. We need to get the message across: 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.

Over 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 890 women lose their lives every year. The majority of cervical cancers (99.7%) are caused by persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection which causes changes to the cervical cells. Women aged 25-49 are invited for cervical cancer screening every three years and women aged 50-64 are invited every five years and 220,000 UK women are diagnosed with cervical abnormalities each year.

One third of local authorities and CCGs in England have not undertaken activity to increase attendance, according to the latest report by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. 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.

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. One in ten (11%) don’t think smear tests are important if you have had the HPV vaccine.

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.

To coincide with Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (22-28 January) the charity is launching its smear test campaign #SmearForSmear.

 

Robert Music

Robert Music, Chief Executive, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
Robert Music

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