The Jade Goody Effect

cervical smear test

In 2009, after a very public battle with cervical cancer, Jade Goody passed away. In the time just after her death, NHS officials noticed ‘the Jade Goody effect’, which saw the number of women attending cervical screenings rise by 12%.

Cancer Research UK chief executive Harpal Kumar said at the time that: “Jade’s brave battle with an aggressive form of cervical cancer has received widespread public attention and encouraged thousands of women to seek advice on how to prevent the disease.”

Whatever you thought of her, Jade Goody’s final moments were felt across the nation. Leaving behind a husband and two children, it was any woman’s nightmare. Because her terminal prognosis could have been preventable, she spent the seven months leading up to her death, campaigning to raise awareness about the importance of cervical screenings.

Despite the initial impact of Jade’s story, eleven years later, attendance at cervical smear tests are again at an all-time low. 

Out of 4.46 million women invited for smear tests in 2017-2018, 1.28 million women did not book an appointment.

Why Don’t People Go?

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found that ‘embarrassment about body shape is a barrier to attendance for between a third and half of women. It also highlights a lack of understanding about the importance of screening, with a quarter saying they didn’t think they needed to go because they were healthy and more than a third believing screening doesn’t reduce your cancer risk.’

According to yourdaye.com, 1 in 4 women (aged 25-39) skip their smear test. They found that 81% of women aged 25-35 delay or miss their appointments because they’re embarrassed at the prospect whilst 71% of women feel scared and 75% feel vulnerable at the thought of having to go.

Some of the reasons that yourdaye.com explores include those that have experienced sexual assault as well as those that suffer from painful conditions that affect the reproductive organs such as endometriosis. All of which is understandable and easy to empathise with.

With this in mind, it’s integral that you have the control over your appointment and feel as though you’re able to share these details and concerns with your nurse before your smear test takes place. Your nurse will likely be mindful of the issues you are raising and will be particularly sensitive to your emotions and needs.

If you find the thought of attending a cervical screening distressing, the NHS suggests that you ask in advance for a female doctor or nurse to carry out the 5-minute test, if that helps you feel more at ease.

More than 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the UK, and nearly 900 die annually.

The Test

A smear test isn’t the most enjoyable experience and it might not be something in the calendar that you look forward to… but you really must go. At your screening, the nurse simply takes a sample of cells from your cervix using a small, soft brush. It takes minutes if that.

They begin by inserting a speculum into your vagina, normally made of plastic with a cylinder round end, it’s the part you might find the most uncomfortable. Once inside, the nurse gently opens it to see your cervix. That is when they use the brush to quickly take a sample of cells from your cervix. And once that’s complete, your smear test is done. 

Smear tests prevent 75% of cervical cancers, so it is a big worry that so many young women, those who are most at risk of the disease, are unaware of the importance of attending.

Some of your thoughts:

Joanne: “I first became aware that smear tests were a thing when I was 17 and I attended my Mum’s smear test. As it was being done, the nurse talked through what she was doing and why and I truly believe that this experience has meant that I have never missed a smear test since being invited at the age of 25. Because the process was shown to me so candidly, I didn’t have time to fear it or be scared of the unknown. I think all teens should be educated like this either by parents or at school.”

Rachel: “I was ashamed to go to a smear test and bare all in front of a nurse or doctor. I put it off but I’m glad I went as I got an abnormal test result back. They treated me instantly and I am fine but I’ll never put it off again.”

Rita: “Jade Goody’s story, at the time, was so emotional and such a wake-up call for so many women. It’s sad to see that her legacy has worn off over time and people have forgotten. I suppose just like having awful images on cigarette packets, people can push it to the back of their minds and put their heads in the sand.”

Jane: “I’ve never been for a smear test. And I feel as though the longer you put it off the harder it is to bring yourself to go. After reading the stats, I’m definitely going.”

Penelope: “I’ve skipped one or two over my lifetime but I tend to go quite regularly. I do think it can be awkward for us British people as we squirm at the idea of things like a smear test. Once you’ve been once or twice, you just realise to grin and bear it. It’s worth it if it saves your life!”

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