Coronation Street cervical cancer story could increase take-up of screening services
Rebecca Shoosmith from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust worked with scriptwriters to produce a realistic storyline
Rebecca Shoosmith from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust worked with the TV soap’s scriptwriters to produce a realistic storyline
If you are a Coronation Street fan, you will be aware of its dramatic cervical cancer storyline.
It’s a story that’s sparking conversation so even if you aren’t watching it, you may be aware of Sinead Tinker’s diagnosis and the outcome we are likely to see over the next few weeks.
Sinead, played by actor Katie McGlynn, was diagnosed with cervical cancer last year near the start of her pregnancy.
The storyline has included hiding tests from her family, chemotherapy, delaying her own treatment, a tentative all-clear announcement and Sinead finding a lump on her neck on her wedding day, indicating the cancer had returned.
Over the next few weeks we will see Sinead lose her life. It’s not an easy watch, yet it’s a story that is being covered as accurately as a TV soap opera can.
Personal and professional experiences of cancer
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has been working with the research team and scriptwriters at Coronation Street all year.
It has advised on treatment pathways, side effects and, potentially most importantly, how Sinead is likely to be feeling at each stage.
Achieving the balance between a dramatic story and an accurate reflection of what living with cervical cancer is like was important.
We all have personal and professional experiences of cancer, and inconsistencies or inaccurate portrayals will not only be evident, but can be insensitive, especially to those going through similar experiences.
Ensuring that cancer was still present during scenes not directly concerned with it – through little details such as Sinead being off food, needing to use the toilet more and experiencing trauma – made the story realistic.
Cervical cancer in the media
When we could not respond to questions from the team we brought in specialists in areas such as oncology and end of life care.
Every time cervical cancer or screening is in the media, we see the impact.
We all know about the influence TV celebrity Jade Goody had on screening attendance in the UK and it is clear that Sinead’s story is having a similar impact.
Media coverage and conversations on social media, as well as feedback from sample takers, shows that the story is reminding and encouraging women about cervical screening. It’s also increasing awareness of symptoms.
The actor herself, Katie McGlynn, has spoken out many times about the positive feedback she has received from women who have taken action to reduce their risk of cervical cancer as a result of the story.
The need for sensitive language is important
The effect of the story on those living with and beyond cervical cancer is also clear. Many are unable to watch it and find it adds to their anxiety about their diagnoses.
This is something to be aware of as reactions to the story may add to already heightened fears or uncertainties.
The need for sensitive language is important. It’s great to see so many impassioned people talking about cervical screening online during episodes of the show.
We are encouraging these messages to be as sensitive and supportive as possible.
Women with cervical cancer need support and empathy
Blaming and shaming women who are not currently attending may simply isolate them further.
For those who have experienced sexual violence or have a condition such as vaginismus, support, information and empathy is what is needed, not being told they are silly.
Cervical cancer is a relatively uncommon cancer so we are so pleased to have a story about it playing out on national TV.
If it helps prevent more women from facing what Sinead is currently going through, then it will have been a true success.
Rebecca Shoosmith is head of support services at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust