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Home » Women's healthcare » Cervical smear tests: how to educate and encourage more women to attend

Dr Declan Quinn, MRCOG

Consultant Gynaecologist & Obstetrician, Mid Ulster Clinic

With a third of young women not attending cervical smear tests, opportunities for early intervention are missed. Doctors are reassuring women that screening is done with utmost sensitivity and saves lives.

Cervical smear tests are free for patients in the UK. They are offered every three years for 25 to 49-year-olds and every five years thereafter until age 65. Yet, fears or ignorance mean it’s common for women to have gaps in their smear tests — with under 30s, in particular, resistant to attending. They are typically afraid of being hurt, worried about feeling embarrassed and scared of bad news. 

Possible signs of cervical cancer 

Signs of cervical cancer include new or irregular bleeding, such as after sex or during menopause; vaginal discharge with unusual appearance or smell; a change in bladder symptoms; new pains across the lower tummy or pelvis.  

We need to talk more openly with
young women because it is the best
protection against cervical cancer.

Prevention through smear testing 

Dr Declan Quinn, consultant gynaecologist and director of Mid Ulster Clinic, says: “We need to talk more openly with young women because it is the best protection against cervical cancer. When reality television star Jade Goody tragically died of cervical cancer, there was a higher uptake; but it since has slipped back down.”  

He adds that: “Nurses and doctors are highly experienced at performing smear tests and are sensitive to patients’ dignity, anxiety and sense of privacy.” According to the National Institute of Health, 46% of patients with cervical cancer had missed a recent smear test. 

Further examinations by specialists 

Patients who obtain an abnormal smear test result will have a colposcopy. Dr Quinn explains: “My role is detection and management of early gynaecological cancer and cervical screening. If we detect changes at screening, we can prevent progression to cancer in a vast majority of cases.” 

He also treats ovarian cancers, which start in the female reproductive system and share similarities with cervical cancer. However, ovarian cancer causes several distinctive symptoms, such as feeling full too quickly, bloating and pain. “Patients experiencing symptoms more than 12 days in the same month are urged to contact their GP,” stresses Dr Quinn.  

“I will continue to work with colleagues to reach out to communities to make the case for cervical screening. We take people’s concerns very seriously and believe that we can work with young women to encourage them to take up free testing.”  

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