Smearing Your Lipstick Could Help Save Lives

It’s just a couple of days left until #SmearForSmear, a social media campaign run by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. The campaign encourages people to share the hashtag with lipstick smeared photos of themselves, but so what? It’s just another hashtag, right? What difference does a selfie or a hashtag really make?

Well, #SmearForSmear can quite literally save lives.

The campaign runs during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (22-28 January) and over the last three years has reached millions of women. It’s a simple campaign, but it has a serious message.

Smear tests provide best protection against cervical cancer, a disease that takes mothers from their children, women from their partners and daughters from their parents. They prevent 75% of cervical cancers from developing, saving thousands of lives each year, yet the number of women attending this potentially life saving test is falling every year across the UK. Over one in four women don’t take up their invitation, and with around 5 million women being invited for a smear test every year in the UK, these are pretty worrying statistics.

So how does a hashtag help?

There are many reasons women delay or don’t go for their smear test. Embarrassment, fear and not knowing what the test is for are just a few. There are cultural barriers, some women are unable to access an appointment, and for women who have experienced sexual violence the test can be extremely difficult. Others simply forget.

A hashtag will not reach every woman who is delaying her smear test and it can’t overcome every barrier. It doesn’t increase availability of appointments and it doesn’t make it a more comfortable experience. But it does increase understanding and awareness of the test, encourages conversation and breaks down some of the shame and stigma surrounding it. Research shows over two thirds of young women don’t think smear tests reduce a woman’s risk of cervical cancer, and #SmearForSmear not only shares the message smear tests prevent the disease, for many women it is the reminder or encouragement they need to take up their invitation:

With the number of women attending smear tests at an all time low, how do we know it works? The campaign runs for just one week every year and every year we get feedback from laboratories reporting huge surges in samples around the time of the campaign, GPs telling us they are inundated with appointment requests and countless comments on social media and through our support services from women thanking us for reminding them.

Statistics won’t change overnight, but through this simple hashtag we can ensure more women understand what smear tests are for, where they can find information and support, and start conversations about cervical cancer prevention.

Every day in the UK nine women are given a cervical cancer diagnosis and two will lose their lives to the disease. Yet it is one of the only cancers that can be prevented and if every woman attended their smear test when invited, these numbers would be greatly reduced. We all know a woman and can all play a part in helping protect them from cervical cancer. A simple reminder, conversation or comment could make all the difference.

So put the date in your diary and get your lipstick ready for #SmearForSmear.

It’s a hashtag that could literally save a life. So no, it’s not just another hashtag.

You can find out more about the #SmearForSmear campaign here.