'Not So Simple' cancer campaign focuses on the impact of treatment

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust has launched a campaign highlighting the trauma experienced by people told they have abnormal cells after a cervical cancer test, to raise awareness of the need for greater support.

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust is highlighting the support needed by women who have abnormal cells detected after a smear test
Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust is highlighting the support needed by women who have abnormal cells detected after a smear test

By focusing on how women cope in its #NotSoSimple campaign, launched on Monday to mark Cervical Screening Awareness Week, the charity is departing from its usual approach of raising awareness of and need for smear tests.

The approach is not without risks and needs to be handled carefully to avoid discouraging people from attending screening appointments, the charity said.

The campaign was prompted by the daily calls it receives from women who are scared and confused after receiving test results.

The campaign is aimed at women and health professionals, with a core message that some 220,000 people are diagnosed with abnormal cervical cells every year in the UK.

Although treatment is successful in about 90 per cent of cases, potential side-effects include pelvic pain, bleeding, anxiety and loss of libido.

One in five patients is not told about these side-effects, according to new research by Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust released as part of the campaign. Many don't understand what is happening to them and are often unprepared for recovery after treatment, according to the charity.

The campaign aims to ensure that patients are informed and in control during the process, which means knowing what to expect, how to manage side-effects and where to access support.

Case studies are being used to promote the campaign, including that of Charlotte Brooke, who was diagnosed with abnormal cells in 2018, when she was 25.

"I'm glad I had treatment but it was a really scary time, especially as I had very heavy bleeding afterwards which I was not expecting at all," she said.

"What's important here is that we get the message out to women that even if you have bad results it's very easily handled and dealt with," Brooke added.

(from left) Lisa, Isha, Charlotte, and Grace are case studies in the new campaign

A 'jargon buster', template social-media posts, and a series of short films featuring women sharing their experiences are among the campaign resources.

In addition to communicating the campaign through its own staff and their contacts, the charity is working with MPs – particularly those with personal experience of having had abnormal results from cervical screening tests – to table Parliamentary Questions and inform their constituents about the campaign.

The campaign has already achieved mainstream media coverage in outlets ranging from The Independent to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

Kate Sanger, the charity’s head of comms, said: "Treatment for cervical cell changes is highly effective. However, far greater acknowledgment is needed of the impact diagnosis and treatment can have on women."

She added: "This Cervical Screening Awareness Week we are putting our attention on the needs of these women. There has been lots of focus on the needs of those attending screening, and of those with a cancer diagnosis, but this is a group who have previously been overlooked."

Sanger commented: "With our Jargon Buster we hope to demystify some of the language used around cell changes, and through our films we hope to bring a very human element to the report we are putting out. We hope that the campaign will help women having treatment feel more in control, less alone and for it to drive much-needed improvements in care."

Website hits, social-media engagement and the number and nature of enquiries to the charity’s support services are among the metrics being used to measure the campaign’s impact. Anecdotal feedback from women helped as a result of the campaign will also be assessed.

The move to confront what can be an unpleasant experience for women comes just months after Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust launched a #SmearForSmear campaign to tackle the fears that women have about the test.

Negative perceptions have contributed to the proportion of women going for the test, recommended by the NHS to detect the disease, reaching an all-time low.

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