A LACK of understanding the causes of cervical cancer is putting women in Scotland at risk, a charity has warned.
A survey found almost one-third of women in Scotland are unaware of the factors which contribute to contracting cervical cancer, while half also failed to link the human papillomavirus (HPV) to its development.
The charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust has now launched a campaign to raise awareness and educate women about the disease and is encouraging them to undergo cervical screening.
Research carried out by the trust found more than 20% of women do not take up their cervical screening invitation each year, and that numbers have been declining year-on-year.
Many women were also unsure of the purpose of a cervical screening test, with 14.9% saying that screening checked the health of the womb, while one in 10 women thought it was a test for sexually transmitted diseases. A further 15% believed cervical cancer to be hereditary.
The survey also found that fears over the procedures involved with cervical screening led many Scottish women to hold off being tested.
More than one in 10 women who took part in the study worried that it would be painful, while the same number thought it would be embarrassing, although others said they had suffered a bad experience.
Robert Music, chief executive for Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust said: "The study shows a clear need to educate women on the causes of cervical cancer and the purpose of cervical screening.
"Currently just under 3000 UK women are diagnosed each year and if those who are delaying their screening continue to misunderstand the disease and how it can be prevented then we are concerned that screening uptake will continue to fall and incidence will start to rise.
"In some areas of the UK we are seeing an increase in incidence for older women and we are very worried that the number of diagnoses amongst women in their late twenties will also go up."
The charity estimates that one in five UK women will fail to attend cervical screening this year.
The survey also found that the amount of time women put off getting tested rises with age. Women aged 25-29 delay screening for 15 months on average, while those aged 60-64 year delay for an average of 33 months.
The trust's new campaign, called Put Yourself In The Picture, is supported by Kirsty-Leigh Porter, who plays Leela Lomax in Hollyoaks, and British actress Sara Stewart, famous for roles in Fresh Meat, Holby City and Batman Begins.
Mr Music said it was important to raise awareness of the practicalities as the age for screening in Scotland will rise to 64 next year.
He said: "This study has revealed several barriers to attending screening which need to be addressed by educating women with targeted campaigns.
"For example, we know that for those living in areas of deprivation the incidence of cervical cancer is three times as high as those in the least deprived areas."
The study also revealed women from the lower D/E socio-economic group in the UK were 35% more likely to delay a screening than those from the highest demographic.
The trust will now be calling for increased but specifically targeted funding.
The charity was set up 15 years ago in memory of cervial cancer sufferer Jo Maxwell.