6.3.17

A Smear Test Takes 60 Seconds, But It Could Save Your Life: All You Need To Know To Settle Your Anxieties.

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 hugely 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 underwear.

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 worry about.

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.

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15 comments

  1. I had really really awful thrush for a year, and got seven or eight smears done in that time to check for the thrush as well as any STDs and cervical cancer. They're honestly so fine - I had a different nurse each time (including two male ones) and I never felt judged. It really is so quick and easy. I would definitely recommend everyone going and getting it checked - it takes two minutes and could save your life!

    Steph - www.nourishmeblog.co.uk

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  2. This is a great post, Hayley. I'm shy and even though I've given birth twice I still don't like going for a smear. It is quick though, doesn't hurt and hopefully is a few minutes every three years that could save your life. This article is a great way of using your voice to get a vital message across. x

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    Replies
    1. It's something I believe so strongly in - and talking about it openly and honestly. It's not fun, but it's not horrendous either. And a minute out of your life every three years is nothing.

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  3. This post was so needed. I got my letter through last week and have spent 7 days panicking about it. Like seriously panicking. But this has kinda made me feel that it's not actually that bad. Tomorrow morning I'm giving them a call and booking that appointment. And keeping it.

    xoxo
    J
    from
    The Crown Wings

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  4. My Mum was diagnosed with cervical cancer a few years ago (she never attended her smears) - they think it would have been so much easier to treat if she did! Thankfully she's in the all clear now.

    I've had 2 smears and I will be honest and find them a little painful (I have a high cervix), but who the hell cares - 30 seconds of a little discomfort for that peace of mind - it's so worth it ladies go go.

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    Replies
    1. So glad to hear your mum is doing well - but yes, imagine the grief she could've avoided with a smear test every few years.

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  5. This is really good advice, it's SO important to look after your health and women certainly should be attending their smear tests.

    Vivian | LIVE . IN . LOVE

    ~

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  6. I kept putting my test off, and it was my dad who eventually made me go (the embarrassment) when I did go i had abnormal cells, which were removed and takes about an hour of your day! Went back for a 6 month check out and absolutely fine! Due one now actually after 3 years! Thanks for the reminder

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  7. Excellent post, I've never been for one and just turned 33. I knew I should go but it was one of those where I kept meaning to make the appointment but would forget and before you know it the next year's reminder was coming through. Recently I had to come off the pill due to developing a blood clot and have ended up getting a coil instead; I had to go to get that inserted and the nurse said that it is 'worse' than the smear and that wasn't very bad at all so I have now booked in my smear/check to make sure the coil is in place and am finally going in a couple of weeks. The slight cramping is definitely preferable to me than possibly having to go through treatment of a preventable cancer.

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    Replies
    1. OH MY GOODNESS smear tests are so much better than coil insertion from what I've heard - like seconds, no real discomfort. So glad you're booking.

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  8. I phoned the doctor last week actually to make mine as it occurred to me I was overdue my appointment. The receptionist asked if I'd received a letter and I said but I was aware I hadn't been for some time. I was told that I couldn't make an appointment without a letter. Luckily I'm the type to fight my corner and when she checked the system it was flagged I was due the appointment so she told me 'I could ignore what she'd said' and would make the appointment. I was so shocked that she didn't check first and it was an outright no initially. I can imagine younger girls, or anyone who are perhaps nervous about a smear would have had that conversation and just accepted the response. I'm writing a complaint to the doctors about it.

    Victoria x
    FlorenceandMary.com

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    Replies
    1. This is so worrying. But not unusual. 3.5yrs ago I moved back to my home town and re-registered with my doctor; at the time I asked if I could book a smear as I was sure I was due one - but she tried to put me off saying 'you could wait up to another year'. After asking about three times and saying that, NO, I wanted one ASAP, she booked me in. The worrying this is that as part of this appointment they found S4 pre-cancerous cells on my cervix that were so advanced I was booked into hospital for an operation within a fortnight. FYI there is no S5, that's just cancer and chemo. If I'd listened to the receptionist and put it off for another year I know what the outcome would have been... They're playing with people's lives and it's not ok. We should all be free to book appointments when we request them, and not be put off.

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  9. I appreciate bloggers speaking out about paps but find it hard to read about how 'easy' they are. I have a condition called vaginismus - it can make sex, a smear procedure, etc, difficult. Basically, it causes me to have involuntary spasms of my pelvic floor muscles. It only affects me when I need to get a pap done. It is awful and I wish there was more education about it, as I didn't get diagnosed until I came to Canada. Currently, it is impossible for me to get a smear done normally. My dr tried Ativan to relax me, a smaller speculum, deep breathing, but the spasms wouldn't stop, and obviously when muscles tighten, there is severe pain, making the speculum insertion impossible. I had to have my pap done under sedation by a gynaecologist at the hospital. I am now working towards being able to get a pap done normally but it is going to take a lot of psychological work to rewire my brain so that it doesn't make my muscles spasm in that situation. Sorry for the long comment but I want more people to know about this situation! xxxx

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  10. I've had so many of these done over the years and the awkwardness never goes away. Moving house and then having to register with a new GP and getting a new nurse also doesn't help. But like you say, it's so important to have them done.

    Maya | londondamsel.co.uk

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