Smear tests – what are the barriers?

Smear tests – what are the barriers?

With cervical screening (or smear test) attendance dropping each year, it’s currently at a 19 year low with only 72.7% of women attending their screening and uptake dropping even lower among 25-29 olds with 63.3% attendance.

 But what are the biggest barriers to smear tests? We’re talking through the main reasons for failing to attend, according to Jo’s Trust.



For some, cervical screening can be painful which can cause stress. This may be caused by a tilted womb, anxiety, menopausal symptoms, vaginal dryness and more. Try talking through your concerns with your nurse before starting the test, as they can answer any questions you might have to make you feel more at ease. Remember that you can also ask your nurse to use a smaller speculum if you’re finding the standard one painful.


Feeling embarrassed is a very common barrier to smear test attendance, particularly if it’s the first test. It’s normal to feel this way initially, as you’re not usually used to sharing intimate areas with anyone apart from a partner or those close to you.

To make you feel more at ease, try wearing a skirt so that you can easily lift it for the test – this might make you feel more covered. Remember that you can request a nurse of a particular gender if this will make you feel more comfortable.

Fear of results

It’s natural to be worried about the result of cervical screenings. But it’s important to know that a smear test isn’t a cancer test, it’s a test to prevent cancer from developing. Your nurse will be there if you have any questions about your results when you receive them.


Finding the time to attend an appointment might seem like a fuss and not a top priority, but the test itself only takes a few minutes and could be life-saving. More flexible hours are often available at certain clinics, so it’s worth asking your GP for advice on how you can fit it into your schedule.


Anyone having experienced sexual violence or had a negative experience with health tests can find cervical screening to be a trigger. To put nerves at ease, it’s possible to ask for an extended appointment to allow more time. You can also request to insert the speculum yourself or even take a friend in with you for support.


Why it’s important to attend screening

Cervical screening provides the best protection against cervical cancer as it can prevent up to 75% of all cervical cancer from developing. It’s estimated that cervical screenings save around 5,000 lives every year.

If you’re worried about the test or have any questions, Jo’s Trust are available to provide support by talking things through on 0808 802 8000. You could also try joining their online forum, where you can find information on existing threads or post your own questions.