Why has the NHS started advising women that cervical cancer smear tests are a “choice”?

19 May 2017

Smear tests may not be the most appealing way to spend a morning, but aside from mild and temporary discomfort, they do in fact save lives.

Cervical cancer is the most common cause of cancer in women under the age of 35, with 3,000 new cases being diagnosed each year. It is therefore surprising that the NHS has recently begun stressing the fact that undergoing this simple procedure is down to individual choice.

Young Woman Thinking

Quick, pain-free procedure

Cervical screenings are used to detect abnormal cells in the cervix. The procedure is quick and painless, where a speculum and small brush are inserted to remove cells from the neck of the cervix, which is then sent to a lab for examination.

It is recommended that all women over 25 attend a cervical screening every three years so that any abnormal cells can be monitored or removed before cervical cancer develops. According to research, a substantial 75% of all cervical cancers have effectively been prevented from developing due to early detection and treatment. Why, then, has the NHS chosen to change their literature on the matter?

New NHS wording

The latest invitation letter being sent out to women states that smear tests are “your choice”, which is, of course, true – there is nobody there forcing a woman to attend a cervical screening. However, the wording seems slightly nonchalant about a very serious issue.

There is also a new booklet entitled “NHS cervical screening – Helping you decide”, the title of which suggests that there are both advantages and disadvantages to weigh up before going for your screen. Whether coincidental or not, it is worth noting that screening dropped by 72% last year, putting it at a 19 year low.

Cervical screenings save lives

It has already been well documented that around 26% of young women are too embarrassed to undergo a smear test; a worryingly high statistic for a test that is so important. With that said, medical professionals should be actively encouraging women to take advantage of their right to free cervical screenings, rather than giving them reasons to believe it isn’t crucial.

Abnormal smears are common, with around one in 20 coming back abnormal, however, the only way to manage the results and prevent something life-threatening developing is to undergo regular cervical screenings. Of course, everyone has the right to choose whether to have a smear test, but we strongly urge all women to do so at the recommended times, in order to protect themselves.

Find out why regular cervical smear tests are important.