smear test whats it all aboutAn Easy Read guide on cervical screening – also known as the smear test – has been launched aimed at increasing the number of women with learning disabilities who get tested.

Every day in the UK, nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and nearly three die of the disease. Cervical cancer is largely preventable thanks to the NHS screening programme and HPV vaccination programme. Across England 77.8% of women attend screening, yet for women with learning disabilities, uptake drops significantly to between 13 to 25%. 

To mark the start of Cervical Screening Awareness Week, and Learning Disability Week, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has produced two resources to help women with learning disabilities to make informed choices about their health.

The first is a 20-page Easy Read guide about cervical screening entitled ‘Having a smear test. What is it about?’ This has been produced with input from women with learning disabilities, expert peer reviewers and the help of specialised Easy Read experts Inspired Services Publishing. New clip art has been created that helps to illustrate how smear tests are conducted and the type of instruments used during the test. The guide also covers some of the barriers that prevent women with learning disabilities from attending their invitation to screening.  

In addition, women can also access ‘The Smear Test Film’, which has been made with the help of women with learning disabilities, who helped script, illustrate and star in the film. It aims to provide information and support to women, allowing them to make an informed decision about whether to take up their cervical screening invitation, as well as equip carers with relevant information on cervical screening and its role in preventing cervical cancer. 

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “Cervical screening is a potentially lifesaving test so it is vital that everyone is able to access the programme regardless of their background. We hope that with these resources we are able to reach this group of women, improve their understanding of cervical screening and encourage them to attend when invited. 

“We’re calling on healthcare professionals and carers that work with women with learning disabilities to use the resources to better inform women about their rights and make a choice whether to attend their test.”

Professor Julietta Patnick, director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, managed by Public Health England, added: “We know that women with learning disabilities are much less likely to attend for cervical screening than the general population.  

“There are many ways in which women with learning disabilities can be helped to make an informed choice about attending for their cervical screening test.  

“I hope that by watching the Smear Test film and using the EasyRead, many more women with learning disabilities will understand what the test is, what is involved and why it is so important to have regular cervical screening in the prevention of cervical cancer.”

’Having a smear test. What is it about?’ can be ordered from the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust: www.jostrust.org.uk/resources/materials/information and ‘The Smear Test Film’ is also available from the website or by calling 020 7250 8311.