Two thirds of women are put off going for cervical screening due to fear or experience of pain and discomfort, according to a new study published in the journal Health Psychology and Behavioural Medicine.
The study, funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research and led by researchers at the University of Leeds, aimed to identify the key factors that influence participation in the national cervical screening programme.
A sample of 194 women aged between 25 and 64 took part in an online survey, which asked participants to list barriers to attending screening and the factors that encouraged them to go.
Along with ‘pain and discomfort’, other top reasons for putting off screening were ‘lack of time’ and ‘embarrassment’, while around a third of the women who responded said ‘difficulty making an appointment’ and ‘finding childcare’ prevented them from attending.
However, the study found that most women who experience barriers continue to attend screening and concluded that focusing on factors that encourage screening could improve participation.
When asked about the things that might encourage them to go for screening, one in three women taking part in the study said ‘ease of making appointments’, including being able to make appointments at alternative locations, would help them take part.
‘Peace of mind’ from a clear result, and the knowledge that screening can be lifesaving if cancer is found at an early stage, were also listed as the most common reasons to attend.
Cervical screening involves taking a sample of cells from the cervix which is then checked for certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). Some strains of HPV can cause abnormal changes to cells, which, if not treated, can turn into cancer.
Women aged 25 to 49 are invited to take part in cervical screening every three years, while women aged 50 to 64 are invited every five years. In Yorkshire, a quarter of women do not take part when invited.
Lead author Dr Sarah Wilding, Research Fellow at the School of Psychology, University of Leeds, said: “This study confirmed that factors which encourage screening are key to the decision of whether to attend screening. Women suggested several improvements that might make attending easier or improve uptake, including making appointments via text or online and screening being carried out in mobile screening vans or clinics that can be accessed easily around work hours and childcare arrangements. Public health interventions should therefore focus on the factors that facilitate screening and how these interplay with barriers in order to improve uptake.”
Yorkshire Cancer Research funds research across Yorkshire to improve participation in screening, from testing psychological methods to speaking to people in their preferred language.