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Marianne Wood: Smear tests save lives

With cervical screening uptake at a 19-year low in England, encouraging women to have a smear test could bring the day closer when no more lives are lost to cervical cancer, says colposcopy nurse and helpline volunteer at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust Marianne Wood.

With cervical screening uptake at a 19-year low in England, encouraging women to have a smear test could bring the day closer when no more lives are lost to cervical cancer, says colposcopy nurse and helpline volunteer at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust Marianne Wood 

smear
Without greater attendance for cervical screening there will be
increased diagnoses – and lives lost. Picture: Getty Images

Figures released by the charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust show that 44% of women are unaware what the cervix is and are unable to correctly identify it as the neck of the womb. 

One in six could not name a single function of the cervix, with only one in three knowing that it ‘provides a seal to hold the baby in when pregnant’. 

These figures, released for Cervical Screening Awareness Week held 12-18 June, become even more concerning when looking at cervical screening uptake, which is now at a 19-year low in England. 

Nurses have a pivotal role to play in increasing attendance for screening and ensuring women have as comfortable an experience as possible. 

At ease, informed

Making patients feel at ease and informed about the procedure is paramount, and nurses taking samples must be up-to-date with training, audit their results and work within current guidelines.  

Many women worry someone will come in during their appointment, so nurses should lock the door to ensure privacy and dignity is maintained at all times, and have a conversation about what screening is, what it involves and what will happen after the test. 

Ask your patient about any symptoms, her sexual health history and any past experiences of screening, using the HMR101 form as a prompt. Listening for signs of fear or uncertainty is crucial, and be mindful of changes in body language or facial expressions while taking the sample.

Attendance vital

Talk through what you are doing, and allow the patient privacy to dress after the procedure. Written information to support the consultation should be available, along with details of where they can find further information or support.

Understanding the various reasons for non-attendance is equally important. These can include feeling uncomfortable in a surgery environment, fear of something being wrong, embarrassment, previous bad experience, thinking screening is not necessary following HPV vaccination or cultural barriers. 

Posters and leaflets in GP surgeries can help raise awareness of cervical cancer screening, and providing early morning or late evening appointments can increase accessibility among non-attenders, especially those who work. 

If we do not increase attendance, we will see increased diagnoses and even lives lost. This simply will not do.


Marianne Wood is a colposcopy nurse and helpline volunteer at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

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