Go for your smear test is the message as Cervical Cancer Prevention Week begins

A NEW campaign has been launched to encourage women – especially Millennials in the 25-35 age group – to take up the offer of a smear test for cervical cancer.

The charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust launched its #SmearForSmear campaign this week to tackle the problem of a fall in smear test-attendance – and said that smear test fears were "causing a hidden health crisis for Millennials".

New research by the charity reveals young women’s reasons for avoiding or not going to cervical screening and found that attendance among this age group was low as one in two in some parts of the UK.

But the issue isn't just confined to younger women. Around five million UK women are invited to cervical screening each year yet one in four do not attend

While acknowledging that going for a smear test can be difficult, the campaign wants to highlight the support that is available to women as well as tips to make the test better.

One 29-year-old mother has backed the campaign after being diagnosed with stage 1b cervical cancer. She said: "I had my first ever smear test when I was 29, so I had actually put it off for seven years. I had ignored all my invitations for lots of reasons - partly I was busy at work and was looking after my young child but I was also a bit scared and really embarrassed about getting undressed in front of a stranger. The idea made me feel vulnerable and so I just didn't go. I had to have a hysterectomy to treat the cancer which meant I can't have any more children. This is still really hard to cope with. Please don't miss your smear test. A minute of feeling awkward is nothing compared to what I've been through and there are lots of things you can do to make the test better. "

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “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.”

Researchers discovered that almost two-thirds of young women who delayed or didn't go for cervical screening (smear tests) felt scared and vulnerable at the thought of going. Eight in ten said they felt embarrassed while a worrying two thirds said they would not feel in control at the prospect of a test.

With smear test attendance plummeting, the charity has uncovered a wide range of new issues which it fears are contributing to the decline.

The charity is concerned that over two thirds of the 2,005 25-35 year olds questioned say they wouldn’t tell their nurse their smear test worries, with almost half admitting they regularly delay or don’t take up their invitation. Worries about making a fuss, fear of being judged or thinking their concerns are too silly or small mean women may instead be avoiding a potentially life-saving test.

Reasons women give for delaying or missing a test include: feeling embarrassed that a stranger would be examining an intimate area; fear it will hurt; not knowing how to talk to a stranger about intimate body parts, and not knowing what will happen during the test.

Robert said: “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’s vital women have more control otherwise we will see attendance continue to fall and diagnoses of this often-preventable cancer increase.”

Dr Phillippa Kaye, GP and ambassador of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust: “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.”

Find out more at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust (jostrust.org.uk). The National Helpline is on 0808 802 8000.

About cervical cancer

• The majority (99.7%) of cervical cancers are caused by persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection which causes changes to the cervical cells

• 220,000 UK women are diagnosed with cervical abnormalities each year

• Over 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 890 women lose their lives every year

• Around 5 million UK women are invited to cervical screening each year yet one in four do not attend

• Women aged 25-49 are invited every three years and women aged 50-64 are invited every five years