Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under the age of 35;
according to The Eve Appeal, 55 women in the UK are diagnosed
with gynaecological cancer every day and 21 will die from it –
but it’s actually one of the few cancers that can be prevented.
Scientific evidence has shown that if women are screened every three
years, more than 90% of pre-cancer cases are picked up and can be
treated with very little inconvenience. Our regular smear test can
increase our chance of leading a happy, healthy, problem-free
life, but so many of us are skipping them altogether because of the fear factor. Shockingly, a third of women
between the ages of 25 and 29 do not take up their smear test
invitation, while 1 in 5 don’t actually attend their appointment
after it’s been booked. Not only is that a complete waste of the surgery’s time, but it could be causing so much unnecessary distress later on down the line. Although smear tests aren’t exactly
enjoyable, they’re so quick and painless that we should all be making
the time to get tested and look after our health; it’s only ten minutes out of your day and only sixty seconds of mild awkwardness, so in my book there’s no valid excuse not to pop along and see the nurse.
The lack of clarity about exactly what happens during a smear test can cause a
huge amount of anxiety if you’ve never experienced one before; after
all, none of us take particular pleasure from letting a complete
stranger near our nether-regions, so our minds run wild at the thought
of how horrendous a smear could actually be. Let me set the record
straight: smear tests take less than sixty seconds from beginning to end, for the majority of
people they’re absolutely pain free, the nurse really has seen it all
before, and no, she won’t be judging you on your choice of knickers. (I feel so strongly about cervical screening that today I insta-storied
my own appointment, proving how simple and quick the whole thing is. Have a look over here while you still can if you want to see the nitty gritty of a smear test.)
If you’re concerned about the results coming back ‘abnormal’, then it
may ease your anxieties a little to know that about 94% of tests come
back completely clear of any abnormalities. I was shocked to learn that
20% of women say they associate gynaecological cancers with sexual
promiscuity, even though there is no link between the two at all;
abnormalities that are identified as part of a smear just mean there’s been some kind of change in your cervix
that needs a little investigation. If you’re concerned about booking a smear for the first
time, then I’ve outlined some faff-free information to help clarify
exactly what happens and why you really shouldn’t be worried…
What tools do they use during the procedure?
A smear test involves two things: a plastic speculum and a little
plastic brush. Each time a smear test is conducted the nurse will use a
brand new set, fresh out of the sterile packaging. The speculum is used
to open the cervix so the little brush can retrieve a sample for
testing; because no cervix is ever the same, there are a variety of
sizes to make the procedure as quick and easy as possible.
Your nurse will start with the ‘average’ size (which tends to be best
for the majority of people,) moving up or down if required.
What actually happens during a smear test?
The whole process usually takes about sixty seconds from beginning to end. You
remove your knickers and jump up on the examination bed, either lifting
your knees or sitting in a frog position to give the nurse the best view
and access point.
The nurse will use a small about of lubricant on the forceps and insert
them into your vagina, opening them slowly to allow her to find your
cervix; once she’s found the right point, the little
brush is used to swish around inside and take a sample of cells for
testing. As soon as the brush is covered (usually about five quick
swirls) the forceps are removed and you can pop back on your
Does a smear test hurt?
No, not at all. You may experience a little discomfort from the pressure
of the forceps widening inside, or even a little tickle from the brush,
but there is no pain whatsoever. I can assure you (if you’ve never
experienced one before,) that after your smear you’ll wonder what all
the fuss was about. The key thing is to relax as much as possible and
the procedure will take seconds.
How often should I go for a smear test?
Your first smear test should happen when you reach 25; the reason it’s
not before is because historically smears were picking up on
abnormalities that were just a result of the body changing and
continuing to develop. After your first one you should pop back in
every three years for a check-up; your doctor should send you a
reminder letter, but if not make sure you know when you’re due another
test and book an appointment.
Are there any side-effects?
You may experience slight period cramps or spotting for 24hrs
afterwards (I usually have nothing more than very mild cramps for an hour or two,) which is perfectly normal. This is simply because you’ve
been prodded at a bit inside and your lady parts can be quite sensitive.
Other than that you wouldn’t even know you’d had anything
done; you won’t be hobbling around or be in any kind of discomfort.
How long will it take to get the result?
Within two weeks you should receive a letter through the post confirming
the results. If your test comes back as normal then you don’t have to
do anything at all. If your test shows abnormalities, then you’ll be
asked to pop back for a colposcopy at the hospital; this is simply a
closer look inside your cervix with a microscope and isn’t anything to
What happens if the results come back with ‘abnormalities’?
There are two types of abnormalities – cells that are pre-cancerous and
have the potential to develop into something more serious, as well as
cells that will simply return to normal without any treatment
whatsoever. An abnormal result doesn’t mean cancer; an abnormal result
doesn’t even necessarily mean you’ve got pre-cancerous cells; an
abnormal results simply means there’s something worth having anther look
at, so don’t worry at all because it’s better to be safe than sorry.
What tips would you give me for my first time?
1. Wear a skirt or a dress so you feel less ‘exposed’ and nervous. If
you have to wack off your trousers and literally lie on a table
half-naked, then you’re going to feel uncomfortable; if you wear a dress
or a skirt you won’t be able to see anything and the whole process will feel a lot more discrete.
2. Relax, don’t panic and if you want to ask questions then ask: the
nurses are used to seeing young women for their first appointment so
they’re happy to chat or take the time to explain and make you feel
comfortable. The more tense you are the longer it will take to get the
plastic forceps in, which is where it can become a little uncomfortable.
3. If you’re nervous about getting your lady bits out in front of a
stranger, take the time to have a little trim and pamper before your
appointment. The nurses see thousands of vaginas every single year so they don’t
even pay attention, but if it will make you feel more comfortable and
confident then go for it.
I’m embarrassed; will the nurse be judging me on my bits?
No not at all. My nurse today told me she does around 50 smear tests a week. That’s 200 smears a month, which is around 2400 vaginas a year! To them it’s just a job, and they’re so focused on getting their brush to where it needs to be that they’re not even looking at how well groomed you are or if you’ve got cellulite on your bum; just like a pedicurists focuses on the job in hand rather than judging you on your chipped polish and crusty heels, the nurse just wants to get her sample and move on to the next patient.
There’s so much unnecessary worry and anxiety around smear tests, but there really needn’t be. It’s quick, painless and infrequent experience that could potentially save a life; a no-brainer if you will. Stop putting it off and PLEASE book your appointment today.
If you’re still concerned, then Jo’s Trust have some fab resources and diagrams on their website here.