By Ayisha Karim (pharmacist)
Are You Getting Your Cervical Tests Done?
Research shows that women from Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic backgrounds, are less likely to have smear tests. This hot spot map demonstrated by The Sun also shows which cities have the worst rates of cervical cancer screenings. But why are women avoiding these check-ups?
Muslim Women’s Network UK decided to research into this and conducted a survey to find out potential reasons as to why this is the case. In this article, I will discuss the results of our survey. But first, a good place to start is to discuss what these tests are.
What is a Cervical Test For?
Cervical Screening (Smear tests), are there to check the health of our cervix. It’s a test that can help to prevent cancer. Women between the age of 25-64 are invited by letter to attend their appointments. It involves taking a sample of cells from the cervix to check for types of viruses called human papillomavirus (HPV) which can potentially cause changes to the cells of the cervix. If these are found, then we can be offered treatment before it turns into cancer. These tests, therefore, can help to save lives.
When do we get invited for the tests? How often should we go?
If you are under 25- you will be sent an invite up to 6 months before you turn 25.
25- 49 – you will be sent an invite every 3 years.
50-64 - you will be sent an invite every 5 years.
65 or older- you will be sent an invite only if one if your last 3 tests was abnormal.
Discussion of the results from the survey
The results from our survey are very interesting. The results show that when respondents rated their knowledge and understanding about smear tests on a scale of 1-10 (1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest), there was an average of just under 4. Clearly this means that something needs to be done to increase the knowledge and understanding about smear tests. We also found that women were getting their information about smear tests mainly from health care professionals, but a very low number were getting it from their friends or family. This shows we do need to discuss this more amongst our families and friends, as this has such an important impact on our decisions about our healthcare.
Around 24% of respondents said that they have never attended their test. Around half of these respondents were in the 25-60 age bracket. This is concerning, because it is important to get these tests done in order to prevent cervical cancer. There are a variety of reasons as to why women do not attend their tests. Around 7% percent of respondents said that they last attended their cervical test over 5 years ago. This is also alarming, as the tests can help to save lives. Delaying tests can be a matter of life and death.
Potential reasons why women are not attending/delaying their tests:
Around 60% of respondents selected that they are very much embarrassed to get their tests done which is why they may not attend their test or delay going to their test. A similar number of women also said that they are very worried the test would cause pain or discomfort. Interestingly, around 25% of them indicated that they were ‘somewhat worried’ that the test would be performed by a male professional even though it's usually a female nurse. If for any reason a doctor needs to do the test, a female doctor can be requested.
One quarter of the respondents also selected that they were very worried that the test would trigger post-traumatic stress. However, others were not attending due to not being sexually active.For example,25% of the women said they were not attending or delaying their appointments because they were still a virgin and another 25% of them said they were not attending or delaying appointments because they were no longer sexually active. Also, travel was a problem for half of the women who responded to the survey, an issue that needs further exploration.
Here are some anonymous quotes from some of the women explaining why they may delay or not attend their cervical tests:
“I know I should even though I am not sexually active yet...but I guess I'm not sure what to expect and also feel a bit apprehensive about how my private parts are... whether I'm "normal" down there”
“It’s always the last thing on my to do list”
“Don’t think it’s important”
“It’s awkward, embarrassing and although quick feels uncomfortable”
Note: Respondents of the survey were mainly Pakistani, from the West Midlands, with around 40% of respondents being between the ages of 31-40.
It is clear there are many reasons why women are not attending their cervical screenings. Although there are barriers in talking about women’s health Muslim communities, more work is needed to explain to women about the consequences of not having smear tests e.g. the delaying in attending appointments can be a matter of life or death. We need to find more ways to try talk about cervical screening because it can lives.
You can find out more about the test on the following website:
Also, if you want more information, you can also check out our video on MWN Hub about cervical screening:
Raise your voice and get connected