Cervical Smears Can Be 'Degrading And Embarrassing', Says Study

A new study reveals the stress, anxieties and pain that women can suffer when undergoing a cervical smear test, prompting experts to call for a more personal approach to the procedure.

The research, from the University of Leicester, was based on women's personal testimonies of their experience of cervical smear testing in the UK.

The report, published today in the international journal Family Practice, found that women are not always treated with the kindness and sensitivity that they would like by healthcare professionals, who can often appear detached and distanced.

Given the intimate nature of the procedure, women would prefer a more personal and sensitive approach and find it disappointing when healthcare professionals behave as though the smear test is treated as a routine procedure.

Researchers from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Leicester wrote the paper in collaboration with colleagues at Glasgow Caledonian University, interviewing 34 women about their experience of undergoing the procedure, which involves taking a sample of cells from the cervix.

One interviewee said: "It's just so cold. You go in, you take your clothes off, she does that and I mean it's just so, it's just so degrading and embarrassing. It's just horrible."

Dr Natalie Armstrong, Lecturer in Social Science Applied to Health at the University of Leicester, said: "Women can feel passive, helpless and vulnerable in the face of a situation where they risk pain and discomfort, shame and humiliation, and violation and invasion of privacy."

In response to the research findings, Dr Armstrong calls for health practitioners to improve communication with their patients:

"Ignoring women's fears, anxieties and concerns can appear to deny the reality, or at least the validity, of women's emotional responses.

"There is unlikely to be a 'one size fits all' solution in terms of what specifically health professionals need to do to better support women, but explicitly asking women about their expectations of the screening encounter and whether they have any worries or concerns may help to surface issues that the health professional and woman involved can then seek to tackle together."