Cervical Screening Awareness Week
15 – 20 June 2020
Cervical Screening Awareness Week aims to raise awareness around cervical cancer and encourage people to attend regular cervical screenings where they feel they are able to.
We know that a cervical examination can often be a stressful and uncomfortable procedure. We also understand that this can be particularly difficult for survivors of sexual violence. A cervical smear might feel intrusive and upsetting, and may trigger anxiety and distressing memories of trauma.
It’s important not to neglect your self-care when going through the process of cervical screenings; it’s also important to be patient with yourself, and take things at whatever pace you need. We’ve put together some suggestions that you may find helpful when going for your smear.
Grounding techniques can be useful to de-escalate heightened anxiety; we have more information on this in the Bitesize Mindfulness section on our website: https://rctn.org.uk/bitesize-mindfulness-for-survivors-during-lockdown/
Music or sound can be really helpful. It might help during a cervical exam to listen to a mindfulness meditation. Perhaps some music that helps relax you or something that helps to distract your thoughts.
Remember that self-care is also important before and after a cervical screening, not just during. Take some time to think about what you need to do to look after yourself; this might be eating something you enjoy, having a bath, spending time with friends.
You might want to bring a friend or family member to support you when you attend your smear appointment, either to be with you to the examination room, or to wait outside.
When you’re making an appointment with your practitioner, it’s okay to request a longer time slot. You might even want to make an appointment to talk about the process with your practitioner, and return to have the smear at a separate time. It’s important that you don’t feel under pressure or rushed.
It is your choice whether or not to tell the practitioner that you have experienced sexual violence. You might feel this is something you want to make them aware of, or you may prefer not to.
You may find it helpful to have the practitioner explain the details of the procedure to you beforehand, or to talk it through at each stage. It’s okay to ask questions about anything you’re concerned about or don’t understand.
Remember that you can say ‘stop’ at any stage. Cervical screenings can be challenging and often overwhelming; it’s okay to pause when you need to, and it’s okay to feel you aren’t able to go through with it.
Information for practitioners
For someone who has experienced sexual violence, attending a routine smear test can be a source of anxiety. They may feel forced or pressured to disclose their experiences, or the examination itself could trigger a distressing physical and emotional responses.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust in partnership with Rape Crisis, found that it is likely that experiences of sexual violence significantly contribute to low attendance rate:
“Almost half of survivors said they had not attended cervical screening because of their experience of sexual violence,
a quarter said they had put off the test for the same reason”.
We know that practitioners want to support survivors to access this vital procedure. Jo’s Trust has worked with Rape Crisis to produce helpful resources including practical ways to support someone through their screening.
Practical ways to support survivors of sexual violence through cervical screening
Emotional support to help survivors of sexual violence through cervical screening