You Seriously Need To Stop Putting Off Your Smear Test. Yeah, We're Talking To You

Almost three quarters of women aged 25-29 don't feel comfortable getting undressed for a smear test – an examination that could save their lives. And the excuses aren't good enough.

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Waiting for the green man at a road crossing. Wearing a seat belt. Drinking water.

You probably do all these things to stay alive without a second thought.

So, why is it we're so reluctant to add the occasional 'smear test' to the list of life-saving actions?

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Look, nobody exactly runs to the doctors asking to whip off their pants in front of a stranger, put their legs in stirrups and chat about the weather while a healthcare professional examines their nether regions.

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But neither does anyone ask for human papilloma virus (HPV), cryotherapy or life-threatening diseases.

According to Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust – the UK's only dedicated cervical cancer charity – smear tests saves 5,000 lives a year in the UK and prevent a staggering 75 per cent of cervical cancers from developing.

Sadly, embarrassment, of all things, is the leading cause for women failing to attend vital smear tests.

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Ahead of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (22-28 January), the cervical cancer charity has released new research which found almost three quarters (72 per cent) of 25-29 year olds surveyed admitting to feeling uncomfortable getting undressed in front of doctors or nurses.

According to the research, 51 per cent of the women surveyed admitted to having delayed or missed their smear tests, with almost one quarter admitting they postponed their appointment for over a year.

Almost one in ten revealing they've never even attended one.

You wouldn't miss a hair, nail or dentist appointment, so there's no excuse for missing a test that could potentially save your life.

Reasons for not attending smear tests, according to the research, include worrying it would be embarrassing, painful, feeling uncomfortable removing clothing, body confidence issues and worrying how their genitals might look.

Well, for starters, you can stop being so concerned about a doctor or nurse seeing your vagina because they really couldn't care less at the fact you're naked.

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Claire Lavelle, a junior doctor from The Wirral, says: 'As a woman, I've been in this situation and I'm hyper-aware that it can be uncomfortable. As a doctor, my main concern is to try and be as gentle and quick as possible for the woman. We're not looking or judging at all, we're just focussing on our job.

'The last thing I would ever want to do is make someone feel awkward so my main focus is to help the patient relax. The more tense they are, the more uncomfortable the test can be,' she adds.

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Let's not forget that cervical cancer is one of the only preventable cancers, providing it is caught in time.

We're not looking or judging at all, we're just focussing on our job.

Robert Music, Chief Executive of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, says: 'Smear tests prevent 75 per cent of cervical cancers from developing yet over 220,000 of the 25-29 year olds invited for a smear test in England in the last year did not attend.

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'Every woman is invited for a smear test from the age of 25 and this test can literally save a life. We want to ensure smear tests are not something women are ashamed or scared of talking about, or do not think are important to attend,' he adds.

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According to Patient, cancer of the cervix is now only the seventeenth most common cancer in women in the UK, whereas across the world it is the third or fourth most common cancer.

And, according to Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, 90 and 94 per cent of all screening results come back normal, with no abnormalities found.

While the chance of a smear test coming back identifying cell abnormality is rare, of course, it is a possibility and one that might be putting women off attending a test for fear of 'what might be'.

And yes, there is the so-called risk of a test presenting 'false positives' – a diagnosis of abnormal cells when, in fact, they're perfectly healthy – that might result in further tests.

But, surely the benefit of preventing cervical cancer outweighs the chance you might, and we emphasize might, here – have unnecessary worry, or need to book in a few more tests?

A smear test shouldn't be an after-thought – it should be a priority.

If you need one, book one. Period.


Here's what else you need to know about smear tests:

How do I know if need one?

Firstly, you must be registered with a GP, who has your current address on file. The NHS' 'call and recall' system invites all women eligible for screening, normally via post.

Women in the UK are invited for cervical screenings between the ages of 25 and 64. Women aged 25–49 are invited every three years and women aged 50–64 are invited every five years.

What is a smear test?

According to Jo's Trust, a cervical screen test (also known as 'smear test') is an examination done to prevent, not diagnose cervical cancer. During the test, some cells are removed from the cervix, with a plastic brush known as a speculum.

The cells are then examined under a microscope to look any changes. 'If the test shows abnormal test does not mean you have cancer. It means you should have some treatment to stop you getting cancer,' reads the charity's website.

How long does the test last?

An appointment lasts approximately 20 minutes, with the test usually lasts up to three minutes.

What should I know before a screening?

  • You shouldn't have sexual intercourse 24 hours before your screening
  • Don't use a a tampon for at least two days before your screening
  • You will need to cover yourself with a paper towel during the test but can wear a skirt during the test if you're feel embarrassed
  • You can bring a family member or friend with you, if you wish

Jo's Trust's annual #SmearForSmear campaign, is encouraging women to share selfies to raise awareness about the importance of smear tests in order to prevent cervical cancer during Cervical Cancer Prevention week.

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