Body shame is preventing young women from attending their smear tests

Young women are not attending their smear tests due to embarrassment over their bodies [Photo: Getty]
Young women are not attending their smear tests due to embarrassment over their bodies [Photo: Getty]

Young women are not attending their smear tests because they are embarrassed about how they look and smell down-there, a survey by cervical cancer charity Jo’s Trust suggests.

The survey, of 2,017 British women aged 25-35, revealed that 35% are embarrassed to attend their smear test because of their body shape, 34% because of the appearance of their vulva and 38% because of concerns about smelling ‘normally’.

A third (36%) of the women surveyed said embarrassment has caused them to delay attending the check, which can prevent 75% of cervical cancers.

What’s more many young women admitted to not prioritising the potentially life-saving test as one in six (16%) would rather miss their smear test than a gym class and one in seven (14%) a waxing appointment.

It was the thought of getting naked in front of anyone coupled with being busy with two young children that put Lindsay off attending her smear test. “I had my first ever smear at 29 after ignoring all my previous invitations,” she says.

After finally attending her smear, Lindsay was diagnosed with cervical cancer. “I don’t want other women to have to go through what I experienced, diagnosis and treatment was awful,” she says. “I needed a radical hysterectomy and still struggle with some side effects of treatment today.

Lindsay’s story is not unique. Across the UK, one in four eligible women (aged 25-64) do not take up their smear test invitation, this rises to one in three among 25-29 year olds and is even as high as one in two in some areas of the UK.

This is despite recent statistics revealing that a total of 220,000 British women are diagnosed with cervical abnormalities each year.

According to the ONS cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35, yet almost two-thirds of those women surveyed weren’t aware they’re most at risk.

Women aren’t attending their cervical smear tests [Photo: Getty]
Women aren’t attending their cervical smear tests [Photo: Getty]

The figures are being released by Jo’s Trust at the start of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week and to launch its smear test awareness campaign #SmearForSmear.

Speaking about the findings Robert Music, Chief Executive Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “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 play a big part in ensuring women are comfortable.”

That’s a message Marianne wants to echo.

“I was experiencing heavy abnormal bleeding and thought it was my pill. I was also a year overdue my smear, life gets in the way and you end up putting your health to one side,” she said.

After some encouragement from her friend, Marianne eventually went for her smear which revealed she had stage 1b1 cervical cancer. “Diagnosis was awful, you just sit there and you’re numb,” she says.

After a radical hysterectomy and lymph node removal, Marianne was given clear margins a month later.

“It could have been a lot worse,” she says. “My friends and family were fantastic throughout, same as my friend who encouraged me to go for my smear – luckily hers came back as normal.”

Both Marianne and Lindsay are now keen to warn other women about the dangers of not attending or putting off your cervical smear.

“Please don’t put off your smear test,” says Lindsay. “The alternative is so much worse.”

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Thousands of women admit to skipping their smear tests, so what’s with the smear fear?

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