Women report humiliation and stress from cervical smears

Women interviewed by UK
investigators say
cervical smears are humiliating
and stressful
A new investigation reveals women interviewed think getting a PAP (cervical smear) test is humiliating and stressful. 

Researchers say a woman’s feelings about cervical smears shouldn't be ignored, and that health care providers should recognize and discuss expectations and anxiety women might experience from the tests.

In findings from University of Leicester, published in the international journal Family Practice, women report they aren’t always treated kindly when they have their exam to detect cancer.

In their study, the researchers found women would like a more personalized approach.

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

"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."

For many women, a gynecological exam is stressful and painful.

Armstrong interviewed 34 women for her paper, published in collaboration with colleagues at Glasgow Caledonian University.

She says one woman stated, "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 so degrading and embarrassing. It's just horrible."

“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”, says Armstrong.

She says one solution may be to talk to women about their expectations during a cervical PAP smear to allow them to express their feelings.

"Ignoring women's fears, anxieties and concerns can appear to deny the reality, or at least the validity, of women's emotional responses.”

Women in the study said health care professionals can seem detached and distant during exams.

Armstrong hopes the finding can translate to a better experience for women undergoing the embarrassment of having a cervical smear test. Women interviewed in the University of Leicester study found the exams stressful and humiliating.