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Body shame responsible for young women not attending smear tests

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One in three women aged 25-29 in the UK did not take up their smear test invitation

Just over a third of young women between the ages 25-35 are embarrassed to attend smear tests, a new survey has shown.

Of the 2017 women surveyed, the main issues for not attending the tests were, their body shape (35%), the appearance of their vulva (34%) and lastly concerns over smelling ‘normally’ (38%). Although young women are not attending, a third of local authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England have not undertaken measures to increase attendance.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, a charity based in London, is concerned that body image issues, including perception of what is ‘normal’, could be putting lives in danger. Across the UK, one in four women (aged 25-64) did not take up their smear test invitation, this rose to one in three among 25-29-year olds and is even as high as one in two in some areas of the UK.

Robert Music, Chief Executive of 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 a further concern that body worries are contributing to non-attendance.’

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35, yet the charity’s survey of women aged 25-35 found almost two thirds (61%) are unaware they are in the highest-risk age group for the disease.

Jilly Goodfellow, a Nurse Practitioner at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle upon Tyne, said she understands why it is hard for women to partake in a smear test:

“We know that if a woman does not have an acceptable experience this may put her off having smears in the future and the biggest risk of developing cervical cancer is not having a smear. The nurses focus is to make women feel welcome, comfortable and ensuring their dignity is maintained, while obtaining a good sample.”

The Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is releasing its new data to mark the start of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (22-28 January) to launch its smear test campaign #SmearForSmear.

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