Regular pap smears are a vital component of women’s health. Pap tests look for cancers and precancerous cells in the cervix, and are the first line of defense in cervical and reproductive health. In fact, regular paps can save your life; cervical cancer discovered in early stages is highly treatable. But a recent survey out of Britain suggest that many women forgo regular pap tests out of embarrassment.

The survey was conducted by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. Of the 2,017 British women who participated, 1/3 reported skipping or delaying pap smears because of feeling embarrassed.

The women had feelings of embarrassment about their body shape, the appearance of their vulva, or their vaginal odor. A third of women surveyed said they would skip their appointment if they hadn’t shaved or waxed their bikini area. Additionally, 15% of respondents said they would skip a pap test for gym time or a waxing appointment.

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35 in the U.K. Approximately 220,000 British women are diagnosed with cervical abnormalities every year.

For one woman, getting a pap test likely saved her life. Lauren Bennie says she put off getting pap smears until she was 30. She said she was embarrassed and uneducated about the female body. Lauren says, “I worried about the nurse being able to take one look at my bits and have some magic skill to be able to determine the number of sexual partners I’d had. I thought a lot about what kind of underwear and clothes to wear.”

By the time Lauren finally got her pap test, precancerous cells had begun to develop in her cervix. She had surgery to remove a portion of her cervix, and says, “Luckily I received the all-clear but if I had delayed my smear test any longer it could have been much worse. My smear test could have saved my life, please don’t put yours off.”

While embarrassment and discomfort about getting a pap smear is normal, it’s important to remember that you’re dealing with medical professionals. Doctors and nurses have seen vaginas in all shapes and sizes, and they’re not judging yours. And with advances being made in medical technology, making pelvic exams and pap smears more comfortable for women, there’s no reason to put yours off. Like Lauren, it could literally save your life.

(Image: iStock/Dangubic)