Our choice of language matters – not least when talking about sensitive health issues – and arguably the term 'smear test' is outdated, off-putting and doesn't convey the ease and typically pain-free nature of a simple procedure for checking women's cervical health.
The government agrees that 'smear tests' are due a rebrand and today has launched its first ever national campaign on the issue in England. The Public Health England (PHE) campaign, "Cervical Screening Saves Lives", will see adverts on TV, radio and online for the eight weeks until 28th April. Notably, in the TV ad at least, the term 'smear test' is avoided in favour of the more neutral 'cervical screening'.
The TV ad (above) shows a young woman smiling while leaving her appointment, and several others thanking people close to them for reminding them to attend their screenings. It's hoped that the new drive will 'normalise' the procedure and encourage more women to respond to their invitation letter or to book an appointment with their GP if they missed their last test. Charities including The Eve Appeal have praised the campaign for its "clear language".
Today @PHE_uk launches the first national #CervicalScreening campaign. It uses clear language & well tested messages encouraging women to attend SCREENING. As the charity working across all five #gynae cancers, Eve know this shift in language is vital https://t.co/QPIGwOLB3W— The Eve Appeal (@eveappeal) March 5, 2019
The number of women undergoing the test is the lowest it's been for 20 years – with a quarter of eligible women (aged 25 to 64) in the UK not attending their test – and two women dying from the disease each day, PHE said today. If everyone attended their screening regularly (every three years for 25 to 49-year-olds), 83% of deaths could be prevented, the government estimates.
Professor Anne Mackie, PHE's director of screening programmes, said the drop in the number of women attending cervical screenings was concerning, adding that "millions of women are missing out on a potentially life-saving test" and that cervical cancer is "one of the most preventable cancers if caught early."
Cervical screening is preventative and designed to identify potentially harmful cells before they become cancerous, increasing the likelihood of women receiving the right treatment quickly.
However, many women are nervous or embarrassed about the test and put off having it done out of needless fear. A survey of more than 2,000 25 to 35-year-olds in January by Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust found that the majority of young women who delay or miss their appointments feel scared (71%) and vulnerable (75%) at the thought of going, while even more claimed to feel embarrassed at the prospect (81%).
Professor Mackie continued: "We want to see a future generation free of cervical cancer but we will only achieve our vision if women take up their screening invitations. This is a simple test which takes just five minutes and could save your life. It’s just not worth ignoring."