Cervical Cancer Prevention Week: Study shows 1 in 5 women delayed cervical screening due to anxiety

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A new study has revealed that one in five women delayed their cervical cancer screening due to feeling anxious or self-conscious

LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor and leading cervical cancer charity, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, has carried out new research in aid of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (June 19-24) to help women overcome anxiety around cervical screening and educate them about HPV.

The study, titled Cervical screening, HPV and me, involved surveying 1,596 UK women to identify their understanding of cervical screening and HPV.  GP Sameer Sanghvi provided answers to the most Googled questions on HPV and cervical screenings alongside a breathwork exercise to help women combat anxiety before, during and after a cervical screening, and a first of its kind cervical screening plan.

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Although cervical screenings in the UK don’t start until a woman reaches the age of 25, the study reveals one in three (33%) women under the age of 24 are already anxious about their first cervical screening. Feeling self-conscious about their body is the biggest concern around attending the test for those aged under 24 (20%), followed by not knowing what to expect at the screening appointment (18%).

The study also found women under the age of 24 first begin to learn about cervical screenings from their mother or mother figure (18%), while three in four (74%) believe their family members’ attitudes towards cervical screening tests influence their own beliefs on the test. Of this group, one in five (20%) state their family members have negative attitudes towards screening despite the test detecting HPV which could develop into cervical cancer.

While those aged 16 to 24 who fall under the age of the cervical screening age bracket have the least knowledge on the test (30%), this age group are the most knowledgeable on HPV. This is likely to be thanks to the roll out of the vaccine across UK schools.

Despite this, one in four (25%) haven’t had the vaccine. And surprisingly, 16% admitted they didn’t know about the HPV vaccine - even though it’s offered nationally in schools to girls and boys aged 12- 13 years.

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Dr Sameer Sanghvi, GP and Clinical Technology Lead at LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, said about the findings:  “While schools are encouraged to teach secondary school students about cervical screening and HPV as part of the Sex Education curriculum, we can conclude from our study that more needs to be done. Almost one in five (18%) women under the age of testing state they are most concerned about not knowing what to expect from a cervical screening.

“It’s important that women are educated from a young age on HPV and cervical screening. This will help women feel more confident about going for their screening, and hopefully ease any anxiety around the experience. What is also a cause for concern is that one in four young women surveyed haven’t had the vaccine.

“One in three of those who have not had the vaccine say being more educated on HPV would influence their decision to get the vaccine. This only highlights the fact that women need to be educated from a young age to gain understanding of the importance of cervical screenings and the risks that HPV carries.”

How to book a cervical cancer screening in the UK

All women between the ages of 25 and 64 should go for regular cervical screening. You’ll get a letter in the post inviting you to make an appointment.

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You will be invited for a screening around six months before your 25th birthday, and then every three years thereafter.

Between the ages of 50 and 65, the screenings will take place every five years. If you are 65 or over, you will only receive a test if one of your last three tests came back abnormal.

You will be able to book an appointment with your GP as soon as you get a letter. If you missed your last cervical screening, you do not need to wait for a letter to book an appointment.

For more information, visit Lloyds Pharmacy Online Doctor.

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