I Had My Cervical Screening And It Wasn’t Scary At All | Smear Test Report
It had been far too many years since my last smear test, due to babies, and moving house, and life, and shoving that reminder letter into a drawer and forgetting about it. This year, I finally got my act together, decided the cervical screening was too important to ignore or put off for a moment longer, and made the appointment. And I’m so glad I did.
I know that going for your smear test –sorry, cervical screening it’s more commonly known as now- can be a scary, daunting experience. I have to go to the doctor’s? They want to look where? And they’re going to do what up there?
The contents of our underwear is a private matter, in addition to which, many people have insecurities about parts of their body. And then there’s the worry that something will actually be wrong, that a screening will show something worrying. That worry fights with the fear of going to get checked out at all, and all too often it feels more comfortable to just stick our head in the sand and carry on with life and forget all about that appointment reminder. After all, you’re carrying on just fine, right? There’d be some sort of pain or sign if there was something wrong, right?
Not necessarily. That’s why these screenings take place.
In the UK, cervical screenings are offered, as part of our wonderful NHS, to people with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64 years old. Depending on your age group, the frequency of the cervical screening offers will vary. Between 25 and 49, the screenings are offered every 3 years, then between 50 and 64 this lengthens to every 5 years. But why are they needed, exactly?
Why Are Cervical Screenings Required? What Are They?
Cervical screenings check the health of the cervix, which is the opening to the uterus from the vagina. Markers from this screening can help prevent cancer, because it tests for abnormal changes in cells that you would otherwise have no way of knowing about. Any changes can then be monitored or treated, as appropriate.
The test does not check for chlamydia or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as gonorrhoea. You’ll need to arrange STI screening tests separately to confirm a clean bill of sexual health.
Recently, the ‘smear test’ has first tested for HPV (human papilloma virus). This is because research has shown that the majority of cervical cancer cases are linked to high-risk HPV. The way of testing is exactly the same – a small sample of cells taken for testing with a brush – so you won’t notice any difference between the ‘cell change’ type screening or the HPV test (aka primary HPV testing or HPV primary screening).
My cervical screening was the primary HPV testing type; the nurse was incredibly informative both before and after the test plus she gave me a detailed but easy to understand leaflet to look through.
What Happens At A Cervical Screening Appointment?
I felt a little wary about my appointment, but nothing more than when I usually have to go to the doctor about anything. I just hate going to the doctor’s, to be honest. Waiting awkwardly in a waiting room for your name to be called or for your name/ticket number to flash up on the screen, then going in to tell some almost-stranger about whatever problem you’ve got this time.
In our surgery we can check in via touch-screen in the reception, so once I’d confirmed my presence on there I just had to sit in the waiting room and await my appointment.
The lady who came out to call my name was very friendly looking, which was reassuring, and a nurse. Having done a little research, the majority of cervical screening tests in the UK are done by women nurses or doctors, but if a male nurse/doctor would make you uncomfortable you can be sure to request a female. Once we were in the room, my nurse also confirmed that I didn’t want or need a chaperone –so this is another available option if you’re nervous.
I felt reassured the entire time I was there. The nurse first told me all about the test, what to expect etc, as well as the medical facts. Pretty much everything I laid out in the previous section. She explained it in an easy to understand way, without being simplistic or patronising, and everything was going well.
Once I confirmed I was OK to go ahead and had understood what the screening was for and how it worked, I was asked to remove the bottom half of my clothing (I was in jeans, but with a dress/skirt you’d just remove underwear) and hop up on the bed. I was given privacy to undress etc –which was a bit odd, seeing as she’d be giving my cervix the eye any moment! I guess the act of undressing can feel more intimate and less clinical than the screening procedure.
The test was simple, easy and painless. I cannot stress the last part enough. There was no pain. I was asked to put my feet together while I laid on the bed, draw my knees up together, then drop them to the sides so my knees were apart while the soles of my feet were together. In order to give a better view/position I was also asked to ball my fists and place them under my butt cheeks – this may not happen to everyone, I guess it depends on the shape/tilt of your vagina.
You do feel very exposed in this position (obviously) but this is a medical test in a clinical room carried out by a medical professional who has, most likely, been doing this with various cervix-owning people all morning and is probably counting the minutes til lunchtime rather than ogling your labia, bush, vajazzle, butt-hole –or whatever else you might be worried about.
The nurse simply inserted something into my vagina – the speculum probably, to gain a clear view/access to my cervix – then soon after I felt a very light, very brief tingle on my cervix. The speculum was removed… and that’s it! Job done.
She told me it was done and turned to package & label-up my cells sample, letting me know I could now re-dress. Easy as that.
My Smear Test Results
Once I was fully clothed again, I sat in the chair by the nurse’s desk once more –and she discussed when I’d likely receive my results. The results would arrive directly with me my post; the doctor’s surgery would also get a copy for my files. I could expect my results within 6 weeks, and if it took longer than that, to get back in touch with the doctor’s surgery so they could be chased up.
I received my results just past the 5-week mark, and they confirmed I was ‘all clear’ for HPV and as I had a very low risk of developing the cell changes which lead to cervical cancer at this time, there would be no reason for a follow-up. I now just have to await my next cervical screening appointment letter, which should be in 3 years’ time.
Of course, if anything unusual happened in the meantime –bleeding after sex, unexplained bumps and lumps internally or externally, other unexplained vaginal changes- I should make an appointment with the doctor immediately in order to get checked out.
Just Go Already!
So why have I written up a report of how my cervical screening test went? I just want you to GO ALREADY. Stop stuffing the appointment invitation in a drawer, stop telling yourself you’ll ‘get round to it sometime’, stop worrying it will be too awks/painful/whatever. It’s painless, quick, easy and embarrassment-free. A professional test carried out by a professional – and a test which could save your life. There’s literally no reason not to do it.
Hopefully, sharing my experience has inspired some of the more nervous out there to pick up the phone and make that appointment today!
Image resources in this post are courtesy of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
Illustrative images are used under licence from Envato Elements.