Why was a petition to rename “smear tests’ rejected?

government rejects campaign to change the name of ‘smear test’
Why a campaign to rename smear tests was rejectedGetty Images

From the age of 25, people with a cervix are invited to go for a cervical smear test in the UK. It's a potentially life-changing examination, which can act as an early detection of cervical cancer. But one in three people still avoid smear tests, due to embarrassment, fear, and religious reasons. The name - ‘smear test’ - strikes many of these people with anxiety.

A petition to rename smear tests to something less intimidating was set up in the hopes that it would encourage more people to get checked. But earlier this month the same petition was rejected by the British Government.

The petition states: “It has such a stigma attached to it, women are embarrassed by it, even the word itself isn't inviting - especially when you're saying it loudly down a crackly phone line or in a busy reception area trying to book an appointment.

“Although this won't solve all the issues with women being too embarrassed or afraid to book, I feel making the first step a little more pleasant might help.”

The reason for rejection is said to be due to the Government not being responsible for how people refer to cervical screening. “Petitions must call for a specific action that the UK Government or Parliament are directly responsible for,” according to the petition page.

Screenings fell drastically before the pandemic. Only 69.9% of eligible people with a cervix between the age of 25 and 64 had a smear test in 2021-22, according to the latest data from the NHS.

However, there remains a fear that it’s still not enough to prevent cases of cervical cancer – a disease that one in 142 females in the UK will be diagnosed with in their lifetime.

It’s not the only petition that has targeted smear tests. In 2019, a petition called for the minimum age for a smear test to be lowered from 25 to 18. It more than doubled the 100,000 signature threshold, which led to the discussion being debated in parliament. This was also rejected.

According to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, an estimated seven out of ten cases of cervical cancer are caught by regular screening.

If you’re aged 25-49, it is advised to get a smear test every three years.

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