Over a third of women are embarrassed to attend smear tests because of their body shape, new findings show.
As a result, practice nurses are being urged to make women feel welcome and comfortable during screenings to tackle non-attendance.
But it has been revealed that 32% of local authorities and CCGs in England have not undertaken activity to increase attendance, with many stating they do not have responsibility to do so. This is despite having roles and responsibilities to protect health and reduce inequalities.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, who carried out the survey, found that young women are embarrassed to attend smear tests because of their body shape (35%), the appearance of their vulva (34%) and concerns over smelling ‘normally’ (38%).
In the new survey of more than 2,000 25 to 35-year-old women, almost a third (31%) admitted they wouldn’t go if they hadn’t waxed or shaved their bikini area.
The charity is concerned that body image issues, including perception of what is ‘normal’, could be putting lives in danger.
Jilly Goodfellow, senior sister and nurse practitioner for colposcopy and gynaecology for the Royal Victoria Infirmary at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘Nurses who take smears see hundreds of women but should never forget that the procedure may be embarrassing for some.
‘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 nurse’s focus is to make women feel welcome, comfortable and ensuring their dignity is maintained, while obtaining a good sample. We do this by talking to the woman while she is fully dressed so she is aware of what is going to happen, reasons for the smear, when she will receive the result and what it will mean.’
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35, yet the research found that almost two thirds (61%) are unaware they are in the most at risk age group for the disease.
Across the UK, one in four eligible women 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.
The latest figures from NHS Digital show that in March 2017, screening coverage was at 72%. This compares with 72.7% in March 2016 and 75.4% in March 2012.
The 0.7 percentage point fall for this year means that nearly 1.3 million women who were eligible for screening did not attend.
Latest figures for the NHS Cervical Screening Programme for the 2016-17 financial year show that coverage for women aged 25 to 64 was 72.0 per cent as at 31 March 2017, down from 72.7 per cent in 2016 and from 75.7 percent in 2011, when collection of age appropriate coverage began.