A third of women aged under 30 are snubbing invites to be tested for cervical cancer, health officials in Wales have warned.
That is despite the disease being the most common cancer for younger women.
Cervical Screening Wales said across all age groups, there were about 160 cases of the disease every year.
But for those who have not been screened – the disease is caught at a much later stage, which often means poorer outcomes for patients.
It has prompted the screening service to launch a new social media campaign on Tuesday under the title ‘#loveyourcervix’.
“We know that women aged between 25 and 29 are the least likely age group to have their smear,” explained Louise Dunk, who heads the screening programme in Wales.
“The reasons behind this are complex, but issues around embarrassment and body shame are commonly cited.
“We are calling for women to be more body-positive and love every part of themselves – even those parts they can’t see like their cervix.
“And the best way to take care of their cervix is to attend for regular cervical screening.”
All woman in Wales from the age of 25 to 49 are invited to take part in the screening programme every three years, with those between 50 and 64 tested every five years.
More than 99% of cervical cancers are caused by high-risk strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV).
‘Less pain than waxing’
Maria Dullaghan was 25 when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2010.
She needed a full hysterectomy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy before being given the all clear in 2011.
Miss Dullaghan had her first smear test at 21 and three years later a letter arrived telling her the next one was due.
“I put it in the drawer and forgot about it,” said the 34-year-old from Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire.
“Then in the summer of 2010 I had some cramping and bleeding. It took a few weeks for it to all hit me.
“I really wish I had that test done as soon as that letter came through.
“Go have it done, it’s free and less painful than a bikini wax. It’s five minutes every three years and can save your life.”
A cervical cancer charity said it was “highly concerning” to see smear test attendance falling every year.
“We’re supporting Cervical Screening Wales in their campaign to try and tackle the decline and ultimately reduce the number of cancer diagnoses and deaths among women in the country,” said Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
In September 2018, Wales became the first UK nation to fully adopt high-risk HPV testing as the first test done on every cervical screening sample, in a bid to identify at-risk individuals.
The HPV tests are carried out, even though there has been a vaccination programme for all secondary school-aged girls has been in place since 2008.
“However, some cervical cancers are caused by types of HPV that the vaccine doesn’t cover,” said Dr Ardiana Gjini, from Public Health Wales.
“Therefore, it is still important for women who have received the HPV vaccine to attend for their cervical smear tests when they are invited.”
Ms Dunk added: “Cervical screening saves lives. It’s as simple as that.
“By not making an appointment you are missing the chance of preventing cervical cancer from developing, or picking it up at an early stage when it is more treatable.”