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  1. ITV Report

Women avoiding smear tests over 'embarrassment'

Many young women are not attending smear tests because they are embarrassed about their pubic area, a cancer charity has warned.

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust surveyed 2,017 British women and found that more than a third of women are failing to get tested because they feel self-conscious of their body shape.

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35, yet the poll found three out of five women (61%) were unaware they were in the most at-risk age group for the disease.

The charity said smear tests prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers so it is concerning that so many young women are apparently unaware of the importance of attending.

Just under 1,000 women die from cervical cancer every year in the UK.

The charity says more than 1.2 million women each year are not taking up their invitation to a test - the lowest it has been for 20 years across every age group in England, with numbers are falling across the entire UK.

The charity said smear tests prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers. Credit: PA

Lindsay was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 29 after ignoring invitations for a smear test.

She said: "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.

"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."

One in four eligible women (aged 25-64) do not currently take up their invitation for a smear test, rising to one in three among 25-29 year olds.

It is even as high as one in two in some areas of the UK.

The charity's survey found that more than a third of women (35%) are failing to get tested because of their body shape, while 34% were worried about the appearance of their vulva.

Concerns over smelling "normally" (38%) were also a factor.

The poll of women aged between 25 and 35 also found a third (31%) admitted they would not go if they had not waxed or shaved their bikini area.

But despite low screening attendance, almost every woman (94%) said they would have a free test to prevent cancer if one was available.

The charity is releasing the data at the start of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week and as it launches its smear test campaign #SmearForSmear.

The charity's chief executive, Robert Music, said: “Smear tests prevent 75% of cervical cancers from developing, providing the best protection against the disease, so it is so worrying that attendance of this potentially life-saving test is falling.

"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."

Jade Goody died of cervical cancer which prompted almost 500,000 extra women to go for smear tests. Credit: PA

In 2009 reality television star Jade Goody died of cervical cancer which prompted almost 500,000 extra women to go for smear tests - this became known as the 'Jade Goody Effect'.

However Robert Music says the effect has now ended and action needs to be taken to encourage more women to get tested: “The Jade Goody effect is indeed long gone and if urgent action is not taken we are going to see more diagnoses and lives lost.

"There is no one reason women don’t attend, embarrassment, low perception of risk, fear and not understanding what the test is for, are just some of the barriers. Others find it difficult to see their GP and some simply forget. If you are nervous or unsure please speak to your nurse or contact us, a smear test takes five minutes but it could literally save your life".