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Campaign encourages greater smear test awareness

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Campaign encourages greater smear test awareness

As Cervical Cancer Prevention Week kicks off, new research highlights that embarrassment is still preventing too many young women from attending potentially life-saving smear tests.

The research, carried out by cancer charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, reveals that 35 per cent of eligible women are reluctant to attend tests due to concerns around body shape. Other factors that were cited include concerns around the appearance of their vulva (34 per cent) and about smelling ‘normally’ (38 per cent).

NHS Digital figures for 2016/17 show that 72.0 per cent of eligible women (aged 25-64) were recorded as ‘screened adequately, down from 72.7 per cent in 2015/16 and 75.4 per cent in 2011/12. Non-attendance rises two one in three among 25-29 year olds.

Decline in the Jade Goody effect

This drop in test rates has been described as a decline in the ‘Jade Goody effect’, after the Big Brother star whose death from cervical cancer in 2008 prompted greater awareness of the disease.

Importance of regular testing

To help combat this trend, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust’s #SmearForSmear campaign encourages people to share selfies with smeared lipstick to raise awareness of the importance of testing.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust chief executive Robert Music said: “Smear tests prevent 75 per cent 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. 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 play a big part in ensuring women are comfortable.”

Making women feel welcome and comfortable

Jilly Goodfellow, a senior sister and nurse practitioner for colposcopy and gynaecology, stressed that while concerns around smear tests are understandable they are handled in a sensitive manner by trained professionals: “Nurses who take smears see hundreds of women but should never forget that the procedure may be embarrassing for some women. We know that if a woman does not have an acceptable experience this may put her off having smears in the future and the biggest risk of developing cervical cancer is not having a smear.

“The nurse’s focus is to make women feel welcome and comfortable and ensuring their dignity is maintained while obtaining a good sample. We do this by talking to the woman while she is aware of what is going to happen, reasons for the smear, when she will receive the result and what it will mean. A chaperone is always offered and if they would like a friend or partner with them this is fine too. The majority of sample takers are female nurses who fully understand what it is like to expose the most intimate part of their body to a complete stranger.”

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