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Cervical cancer health centre

Young women skip smear tests 'due to body shame'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

22nd January 2018 – More than a third of young women say they are too embarrassed to attend smear test appointments because they are ashamed of their body shape, says a cancer charity.

One in 4 women aged 25 to 64 in the UK who are eligible for cervical screening do not take up their invitation to be tested. However, among 25 to 29 year olds the figure is 1 in 3, and even as high as 1 in 2 in some parts of the country.

A survey carried out by Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust found that 35% of 2,017 women aged between 25 and 35 say body shame caused them to delay attending. This rose to 50% when women who had never had a smear test were included.

Worries about appearance and smell

Top concerns include the appearance of their vulva and worries over whether they smell 'normal'.

Almost a third of the women admit they would not have a smear test unless they waxed or shaved their bikini area.

The poll also reveals that 16% would rather miss their smear test than a gym class.

The charity says it is concerned that body image issues could be putting women's lives at risk.

Life-saving test

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, says in a statement: "Smear tests prevent 75% 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 can play a big part in ensuring women are comfortable."

Cervical cancer is the 13th most common cancer among UK women but the most common among women under the age of 35.

"Worryingly high numbers" do not understand that smear tests can prevent cervical cancer, according to Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust.

Its survey showed that 61% of young women aged 25 to 35 are unaware they are in the most high-risk age group for the disease.

'I didn't want to get naked in front of a stranger'

Lindsay, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer aged 29, told the charity: "I had my first ever smear at 29 because I had ignored all my previous invitations. 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. Diagnosis and treatment was awful. I needed a radical hysterectomy and still struggle with some side effects of treatment today."

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust is also concerned that not enough is being done to increase access to cervical screening.

In a report, it says 34% of clinical commissioning groups and 32% of local authorities in England had not undertaken any activities to boost smear test take-up between August 2016 and August 2017.

The charity is releasing its new data at the start of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week.

Reviewed on January 22, 2018

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