Tamsin Greig, Mandip Gill and Nikki Amuka-Bird are among the high-profile women who have come forward to back a campaign to tackle plummeting smear test (cervical screening) attendance among young women in the UK.
With smear test attendance falling dramatically, and as low as one in two among young women in some areas of the UK, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is launching its #SmearForSmear campaign during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (21-27 January).
The campaign aims to reverse the decline, acknowledging the fact that going for a smear test can be difficult and highlighting the support available to women as well as tips to make the test better.
Celebrities and millions of other women across the UK will be sharing lipstick smeared selfies to highlight the importance of the test and remind their friends, family and followers to book an appointment. The campaign also has the backing of celebrities including Becky Vardy, who has hit the headlines recently talking about her own smear test experience.
New research has found young women who delay or don’t go for smear tests feel scared (71%) and vulnerable (75%) at the thought of going. While embarrassment remains high (81%), a worrying two thirds (67%) say they would not feel in control at the prospect of a test.
Actress Tamsin Greig, who appears in the charity’s new short film which takes on some of women’s biggest barriers to smear test attendance, said: “Millions of women are invited for smear tests every year. They save lives but it’s completely normal to feel scared or anxious. Whatever your question or concern, no matter how big or small, another woman WILL have felt the same. You aren’t alone. Don’t put your test off, instead talk to your nurse, or someone you trust.”
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has uncovered a wide range of new issues which it fears are contributing to the decline. The charity is concerned that over two thirds (68%) of the 2,005 25-35 year olds it 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%), fear of being judged (18%) or thinking their concerns are too silly or small (16%) mean women may instead be avoiding a potentially life-saving test.
Robert Music, Chief Executive, 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%) said embarrassment or a stranger examining an intimate area (69%). Fear it will hurt (58%), not knowing how to talk to a stranger about intimate body parts (44%) and not knowing what will happen during the test (37%) were also given as reasons by high numbers of women.
Robert continued: “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.”
Further findings include:
High numbers of women who attend regular tests still feel body conscious (67%), scared (43%), vulnerable (46%) and not in control (36%) before their test
When asked about their biggest worries, those who delay or don’t attend said a stranger examining an intimate area (57% vs 40% who always attend), general embarrassment (54% v 35%) and fear it will hurt (44% vs 36%)
While smear tests are the best protection against cervical cancer, fear of the disease is worryingly high among those who don’t attend or delay (40%)
Fear of cancer appears to motivate those who always go, cited by 60% as one of their biggest worries
Feeling vulnerable and not in control was high among the full sample as during their test 28% would feel uncomfortable asking the nurse to stop and 27% saying if it hurt
27% wouldn’t say if they felt nervous or scared and 18% would feel uncomfortable asking what the nurse is doing during the test
19% of the full sample wouldn’t raise their worries as they don’t think the nurse would be able to do anything about it anyway
Lindsay was 29 when she was diagnosed with stage 1b cervical cancer:
“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. "
Dr Who actress, Mandip Gill, who co-stars in the charity’s film, said: “Smear tests aren’t always easy. You might feel afraid before your smear test – of the result, of pain or just of the unknown. Find out as much as you can before you go; knowing what to expect and ways to make it easier can help put your mind at ease. Don’t forget you can say stop at any time, for any reason. It’s your test and you’re in control.”