Millennials’ fear of the smear test is causing a hidden health crisis, says cancer charity

Young women's fears and embarrassment are preventing them take a potentially life-saving cervical screening test
Young women's fears and embarrassment are preventing them take a potentially life-saving cervical screening test

Young women who delay or don’t go to their smear tests feel scared and vulnerable at the thought of going, according to new research.

71 per cent of young women feel scared, while 75 per cent feel vulnerable about the potentially life-saving cervical screening – according to charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

One in three East Sussex women have missed this life-saving cancer test

While embarrassment remains high (81 per cent), a worrying two thirds (67 per cent) say they would not feel in control at the prospect of a test.

With smear test attendance plummeting, and as low as one in two among young women in some areas of the UK, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has uncovered a wide range of new issues which it fears are contributing to the decline.

The charity says it is concerned more than two thirds (68 per cent) 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 (27 per cent), fear of being judged (18 per cent) or thinking their concerns are too silly or small (16 per cent) mean women may instead be avoiding a potentially life-saving test.

Lindsay was 29 when she was 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. “

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is launching its #SmearForSmear campaign during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (January 21-27) to tackle the decline and acknowledge the fact going for a smear test can be difficult.

Through the campaign it wants to highlight the support available to women as well as tips 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.”

When asked what has caused them to delay or miss a test, three quarters (72 per cent) said embarrassment or a stranger examining an intimate area (69 per cent).

Fear it will hurt (58 per cent), not knowing how to talk to a stranger about intimate body parts (44 per cent) and not knowing what will happen during the test (37 per cent) were also given as reasons by high numbers of women.

Robert said: “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.”

And Dr Phillippa 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.”

Visit www.jostrust.org.uk for more information or call your GP to book a test now.