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News

A necessary embarrassment: Smear tests

26 January, 2018

smear test template

Smear tests, or cervical screenings, are available to all women in the UK over the age of 25 on the NHS. A cervical screening is not a test for cancer; it tests how healthy the cells in your cervix are. But recent research by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust shows that many women are still avoiding having them done out of embarrassment, despite their importance.

In the UK, if you are aged between 25-49 you will be offered a smear test every three years. This extends to every five years once you are between 50-64, and those over 65 are only offered a test if they haven’t been screened since they were 50.

Despite the fact that there are years between checkups, there is no question that smear tests are crucial.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust surveyed 2,017 British women and found that a third of women admitted they are likely to avoid getting a smear test because they are embarrassed, the majority of these women were in the younger age bracket.

Their reasons include embarrassment over the look and smell of their pubic areas, having pubic air, whether they are wearing the right type of underwear, or not having shaved. 35% even admitted that their body shape made them too embarrassed to have the test.

Cervical cancer in the most common form of cancer for women under 35, but the survey found that two thirds were unaware they were in the ‘most at risk’ category. In fact, many didn’t seem to place much importance on attending the appointments.  Of those surveyed, 15% say they would miss a smear test to go to the gym, or a waxing appointment.

Each year, more than 200,000 British women are diagnosed with cervical abnormalities, these abnormalities may not mean cancer, but having the smear test means you can get preventative treatment early, to stop anything serious from developing.

smear test speculum

Around 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year.  And while it’s good news that 67% will survive for 10 or more years, nearly 900 women will die from it. Yet figures show that a quarter of women miss their tests.  This figure increases to 1 in 3 for those aged 25 to 29, and in deprived areas of the UK this figure slips to 1 in 2.

It’s quite normal to be embarrassed at the prospect of having a test, but it really doesn’t take long.  And remember, nurses are professionals and have done hundreds, if not thousands, of these tests.  They are there to do their job and help you, not judge you.

The figures from the survey highlight a continuing lack of awareness on how important these tests are – something that’s quite hard to believe in 2018!

The charity estimate that 5,000 lives are saved by smear tests every year. Yet a quarter of respondents said they didn’t think they needed a smear test because they were healthy, and more than a third of those surveyed didn’t believe that screening reduced your cancer risk.

You may be worried about what a smear test will find, yet 94.8% of tests were negative in 2016/17, so the odds are in definitely in your favour. And as the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

It is clear that more campaigning is needed to raise the awareness of just how important smear tests are.  Recent campaigning by celebrities of #SmearForSmear is bringing attention to the issue, and it is important to educate yourself.

Every body is different and yes, it’s embarrassing, but surely five minutes of embarrassment for something that could save your life has to be worth it.

You can find more information on smear tests on the NHS website.