According to a new investigation from the University of Leicester published yesterday in the international journal Family Practice, testimonies from women’s personal experience of cervical smear testing in the UK are frequently negative.

The investigation highlights the anxieties, stress and pain that some women suffer during the test. Cervical smear tests involve removing cells from the cervix using special instruments. According to the study, women revealed that they were not always treated with the sensitivity and kindness they would expect, and that healthcare professionals often seem distant and detached. In addition, they stated that they would prefer a much more personal approach.

Investigators from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Leicester, together with colleagues at Glasgow Caledonian University wrote the report. The researchers interviewed 34 women regarding their experience of undergoing cervical smear tests. The study received funding by an MRC Health Services Research Studentship.

Dr. Natalie Armstrong, Lecturer in Social Science Applied to Health at the University of Leicester, explained:

“Attitudes towards cervical smears remain something of a paradox. On one hand, screening appears to command impressive levels of public support – as demonstrated by campaigns to widen the eligibility criteria – but on the other hand there is considerable evidence suggesting that individual women find the experience of the screening test problematic.”

According to Dr. Armstrong, several women in her interviews emphasized how extremely intimate and personal the test was, and stated that several women reported unsatisfactory experiences. Dr. Armstrong said:

“Women can feel passive, helpless and vulnerable in the face of a situation where they risk pain and discomfort, shame and humiliation, and violation and invasion of privacy.” One women said “It’s just so cold. You go in, you take your clothes off, she does that and I mean it’s just so, it;s just do degrading and embarrassing. It’s just horrible.”

Frequently women are left feeling disappointed regarding the way in which the procedure is carried out, particularly if the healthcare professional administering the procedure acts as though it’s a routine test.

Dr. Armstrong explains:

“Ignoring women’s fears, anxieties and concerns can appear to deny the reality, or at least the validity, of women’s emotional responses. There is unlikely to be a “one size fits all” solution in terms of what specifically health professionals need to do to better support women, but explicitly asking women about their expectations of the screening encounter and whether they have any worries or concerns may help to surface issues that the health professional and women involved can then seek to tackle together.”

Written by Grace Rattue