Improving appointment systems and clinic times could increase the number of younger women attending smear tests, while older women need education on the importance of screening, experts say.
A Cancer Research UK study found that reasons for not attending smear tests differed with age, with women in their twenties and thirties saying they were too busy, and older women too embarrassed and fearful of pain.
The research, published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, found that younger women had difficulty booking screenings through their GP system and finding a time which fitted around their menstrual cycle.
Older women were less likely to arrange an appointment because they did not consider the disease a major risk and also wanted to avoid pain and embarrassment.
The research team at the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre interviewed 46 women, aged between 25-64. The women interviewed had either never attended cervical cancer screening or did not attend regularly.
Women in England are invited for cervical screening every three years from age 25-49 and every five years from age 50-64.
But in the last decade the proportion of women aged 25-64 in England who have been screened at least once in the previous five years, has dropped to 78.9%, below the government’s target of 80%.
Study author Dr Jo Waller said: “We’ve found that there are age differences in barriers to screening and evidence which suggests that addressing practical issues such as appointment systems and clinic times might boost attendance in young women, whereas there appears to be a need to educate the older groups of the importance of making an appointment.”
- Exploring age differences in reasons for nonattendance for cervical screening: a qualitative study. J Waller et al. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.