Many young women are not attending smear tests because they are embarrassed about their bodies, a cancer charity has warned.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said it was concerned that body image issues could be putting women’s lives in danger.
One in four eligible women (those aged 25-64) do not currently take up their invitation for a smear test, rising to one in three among 25- to 29-year-olds. It is even as high as one in two in some areas of the UK.
The charity conducted a survey which found that more than a third of women (35 per cent) are failing to get tested because of concerns about their body shape, while 34 per cent were worried about the appearance of their vulva.
Concerns over smelling “normally” (38 per cent) were also a factor. The poll of women aged between 25 and 35 also found a third (31 per cent) admitted they would not go for a smear test if they had not waxed or shaved their bikini area.
But despite low screening attendance, almost every woman surveyed (94 per cent) said they would have a free test to prevent cancer if one was available.
The charity is releasing the data at the start of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, as it launches its campaign – entitled #SmearForSmear – to get more women to attend their smear tests.
Lindsay was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 29 after ignoring invitations for a smear test.
She said: “I was too busy with a baby and a small child, working, and I didn’t like the thought of having to get naked in front of anyone I didn’t know.
“I don’t want other women to have to go through what I experienced, diagnosis and treatment was awful. I needed a radical hysterectomy and still struggle with some side-effects of treatment today.
“Please don’t put off your smear test, the alternative is so much worse.”
The charity’s chief executive, Robert Music, said: “Smear tests prevent 75 per cent of cervical cancers so it is a big worry that so many young women – those who are most at risk of the disease – are unaware of the importance of attending.
“It is of further concern that body worries are contributing to non-attendance.
“Please don’t let unhappiness or uncertainty about your body stop you from attending what could be a life-saving test.
“Nurses are professionals who carry out millions of tests every year, they can play a big part in ensuring women are comfortable.”
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35, yet the poll of 2,017 women found three out of five (61 per cent) were unaware they were in the most at-risk age group for the disease.
Just under 1,000 women die from cervical cancer every year in the UK.
Cancer minister Steve Brine said: “We must all take a stand against cancer, that’s why I’m pleased to support this campaign so we can continue to see cancer survival rates improve and more cases prevented.
“Lives can be saved if women book an appointment.”