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Older women too embarrassed to go for smear tests

And younger women are just too busy, study shows

Caroline White

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Older women are too embarrassed to go for smear tests, and fear that they will be painful, while younger women are just too busy, finds research published online today in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

In the first study to explore age differences in barriers to cervical screening attendance, researchers from the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre, based at University College London, interviewed 46 women, aged between 25 and 64. The women had either never had a cervical cancer screen or did not attend regularly.

Cervical cancer is diagnosed in around 730 women under the age of 35 and around 1200 women aged 50 and over every year in the UK. Around 2,900 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the UK each year—equivalent to 56 women every week.

Over the past decade the proportion of women aged 25-64 in England who have been screened at least once in the previous five years has dropped to 78.9%, which is below the government’s target of 80%.

The research showed that women in their 20s and 30s were too busy to be screened. They found it difficult to book a test through the GP appointment systems, and to arrange a time which fitted around their menstrual cycle.

Women in their 50s had fewer difficulties arranging an appointment, but were less inclined to do so. They were not worried about the risk of developing cervical cancer, and were put off having screening because of embarrassment and fear of pain, sometimes resulting from previous experiences.

Study author Dr Jo Waller, said: “We’ve found that there are age differences in barriers to screening and evidence which suggests that addressing practical issues such as appointment systems and clinic times might boost attendance in young women, whereas there appears to be a need to educate the older groups of the importance of making an appointment.”

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of health information, said: “Despite a surge in the number of women having a smear test immediately after the death of Jade Goody, we know a large number of women are not going for a smear test.

Older women might find the test embarrassing but it can save their lives. Women who don’t go for cervical screening face a higher risk of cervical cancer, so it’s important to encourage women of all relevant ages to take part.”

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