FMP: Smear Tests.

Following my feedback from my past tutorial I was aware that I needed to redirect my aim of my amp. I think I have got so focused on producing an outcome that I have lost a sense of what I am trying to achieve with it, being so focused on redesigning a tampon box that I don’t know how this idea can be expanded.

During my tutorial David mentioned that it might be worth concentrating on one taboo, instead of trying to tackle them all at once. I took this on board and I aimed my research towards smear tests, an issue that is becoming even more important and I lacked to find existing around this topic.

More than 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the UK, and nearly 900 die annually. All women aged 25 to 49 are invited for a screening test every 3 years, while those aged 50 to 64 are invited every 5 years.

The most shocking thing I found out when researching into smear tests was the reasonings why women feel ashamed to attend they appointments as the number of women attending screenings has dropped to the lowest level since records began in 1995, with nearly a third of women in the UK risking their lives by skipping their smear test, But as it’s one of the only cancers that can be prevented through early screenings – and smear tests can actually stop 75% of cases from developing – why are millions of women avoiding them?

“There are many reasons why women miss their screenings, from fear and embarrassment to a lack of available appointments. Survivors of sexual violence can also find it difficult to attend because of psychological issues. Of course, there are also people who simply forget about it or don’t see smears as a priority. We all have a part to play and we’re delighted to be partnering with Fabulous on this campaign. We want to make sure everyone is more vocal and positive about screenings because they do save lives.” – The Sun.

Jo cervical cancer trust created a survey who’s results show that one in three women don’t attend their screen because of embarrassment. It also highlights a lack of understanding about the importance of screening, with a quarter saying they didn’t think they needed to go because they were healthy and more than a third believing screening doesn’t reduce your cancer risk.

Understanding of cervical cancer and screening

  • 61% of women aged 25 to 35 were unaware they were in the highest-risk group for cervical cancer
  • 37% thought screening did not reduce your risk of disease
  • 24% thought they were not at risk because they were healthy
  • 17% thought smears were important but didn’t know why (35% of non-attenders)
  • 11% thought you didn’t need a smear if you’d had the HPV vaccine

Why women don’t attend

  • 35% of all women reported being embarrassed to attend because of their body shape (50% of non-attenders), 34% had concerns over the appearance of the vulva (48% of non-attenders) and 38% were concerned about whether they smelled “normal” (54% of non-attenders)
  • 31% said they wouldn’t go if they hadn’t shaved or waxed their bikini area
  • 35% wouldn’t go if they had to take time off work, 16% wouldn’t miss the gym to attend and 14% would rather miss a smear than a waxing appointment
  • 26% said it’s too hard to make an appointment 
  • 20% would rather not know if something was wrong (34% of non-attenders)
  • 30% of those who had never had a smear said they didn’t know where to get the test

This was shocking to read! This attitude of avoiding smear test is putting thousands of women in danger. The taboo seems to hang over the word smear test, as it seems to put people off and scare them away due to lack of knowledge of the process. As I continued with my research it was also very worrying to hear women feel like they can’t talk to nurses as they are embarrassed to mention the word vagina! ‘The charity is concerned that over two thirds (68%) of the 2,005 25-35 year olds questioned say they wouldn’t tell their nurse their smear test worries, with almost half admitting they regularly delay or don’t take up their invitation. Worries about making a fuss (27%), fear of being judged (18%) or thinking their concerns are too silly or small (16%) mean women may instead be avoiding a potentially life-saving test.’

A fear of pain is also common among the reason why women don’t attend smear test, when in actual fact many women state that a smear test s less painful that waxing! It takes 2 minutes and can save your life so it is so important that the word is spread to normalise this!

The whole test should take no longer than three minutes and your nurse just wants to do the best test possible, they are there to talk through any concerns you might have. During a smear test a nurse uses a really soft brush to take a sample of cells from your cervix which will be sent to a laboratory to checks for cell changes (abnormalities) on your cervix. It can be uncomfortable and feel weird but shouldn’t be painful. Some women do experience pain and this can be due to lots of different things including pre-existing medical conditions, so do tell your nurse if it does and they will be able to talk through ways to make it easier. Remember it’s your test, you are in control.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is the only charity which I could find that is really pushing the normalisation of smear test’s and attempting to stop women feeling ashamed. Their #smearforsmear campaign was the only campaign I could find around this topic, which was live only recently in 2019. I felt this campaign lacked a lot unfortunately, considering it was only put together last year it looked dated and sadly didn’t catch my attention. The idea of smearing your lipstick for smear test was lost on me and I wanted to take this as an opportunity to target my project on improving this.

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