It’s not anyone’s first choice of how to spend an afternoon, but it might just save your life. Last week we heard the worrying statistic that 35% of women between 25 and 35 do not attend their smear tests. This needs to change.
There are many things we let slide in our busy day-to-day lives. But worryingly, a study by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust shows one in six women would rather miss a smear test than a gym class. Putting off getting a smear test can have devastating consequences, not just life changing but all too often, life ending.
The main reason given in this survey for not attending appointments was women felt too shy to attend. Part of this shyness I’m sure stems from the fact many women don’t know what to expect when they attend a smear test. This would be so easy to change.
Discussions of female health should begin in school and continue throughout our lives. The great work of Jo’s Cervical Cancer trust in bringing this issue to the forefront of our collective consciousness must be complimented by improving education about this issue.
Before becoming a Member of Parliament, I worked in healthcare for over a decade, helping NHS hospitals improve care and make the most of their resources. And since entering parliament I served on the Health select committee and am currently Co-Chair of the All Party Health Group and Chair of the APPG for Mental Health. I care passionately about healthcare, but if we can prevent diseases from spreading in the first place, and intervene at the earliest possible stage, then the NHS can focus on what it does best: treating people who are sick. We all have a responsibility to keep ourselves healthy, and for women the means regular smear tests.
I’m glad that Steve Brine, the Health Minister responsible for Primary Care, has supported the campaign by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust so we can continue to see cancer survival rates improve. We have made great progress – more people now survive cancer than ever before– but there is still work to do.
We know that smear tests prevent 75% of cervical cancers, so the fact that so many young women are missing these appointments is deeply worrying. Cancer has touched most people’s lives in some way or another and almost everyone I know has experienced the trauma this disease causes – whether for themselves or a loved one. Many cancers are difficult to detect early on, so when we can we should. That means we should help young women overcome their worries and take up potentially life-saving smear tests.
As the Prime Minister herself said, “Sadly, what we see, even for those women who qualify today to have the smear test, is that too many women do not take it up. I know that it is not a comfortable thing to do, because I have it, as others do, but it is so important for women’s health. I first want to encourage women to actually have the smear test”
Cervical cancer awareness month ends this week but the discussion must not!
Helen Whately is the Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid Kent