Why Women Are Putting Off Or Avoiding Their Smear Tests

A new survey has revealed one in three women over 50 are putting off or not attending their smear tests [Photo: Rex Features]

What do you do when your smear test reminder plops through your letterbox? Book yourself an appointment ASAP, groan inwardly and promise you’ll sort it when you’re next doing life admin or bury it in a drawer and ignore it?

If it’s the latter you’re certainly not alone as according to a new survey by a cervical cancer charity one in three women over 50 has delayed or not attended their cervical screening test.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and Gransnet surveyed 1,000 women over 50 and found that the average delay was of more than two years, while 10% delayed having a smear test for over five years.

The survey, released for Cervical Screening Awareness Week (13-19 June), found the reasons for the delay of attendance included a lack of understanding of cervical cancer and cancer screening among women in that age group. Of those who have delayed screening, 32% find it embarrassing, 25% find it hard to book an appointment at a convenient time, 20% have had a previous bad experience and 19% find it painful since being older (16% since the menopause in particular).

Cervical Smear testing can be potentially life-changing but many women aren’t attending [Photo: Rex Features]

But putting off or not attending a smear could have serious consequences as the charity also predicted that by 2040 cases of cervical cancer could increase by 16% among 60-64 year olds and by 85% among 70-74 year olds if screening uptake remains at the same level.

When asked what would encourage attendance: 21% said more flexible GP opening hours, 38% said being sent an appointment time with their cervical screening invitation, 31% wanted more information relevant to their age, 23% said more information about the risks of not attending. Almost one in four (23%) who had delayed attending said they would like the opportunity to HPV self test.

Robert Music, chief executive at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said uptake of cervical screening was at an 18-year low of 72%, while diagnoses were on the rise with 3,207 women a year now learning that they are suffering from the condition.

Smear attendance in over 50s is at an 18 year low [Photo: Rex Features]

“Cervical cancer is a preventable disease so it is extremely worrying that diagnoses have risen,” he said of the findings.

“Women aged 50 to 64 are of particular concern as they are more likely to receive an advanced stage diagnosis, with 49% of diagnoses stage two or later, which means more invasive treatment, poorer health outcomes and increased risk of loss of life.”

Jane Ellison, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health said: “Cervical screening currently saves 4,500 lives a year, but it could save more if everyone took the opportunity to be screened. Even as we get older, it is important that we spot any abnormalities early so we have a better chance of preventing cervical cancer.”

Time to dig that reminder out of the drawer ladies.

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