The dreaded Cervical Screening (previously known as a smear test) letter landed on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago. Although I’m not 25 yet, the letter gets sent out 6 months before your birthday. I immediately had an ‘oh shit’ moment as the dreaded panic and worry set in. I then persisted to google smear tests (something I shouldn’t have done!) I read endless articles about the procedure and the results people got after. An even more of an ‘oh shit’ moment. I didn’t need to worry.
Cervical Screening is incredibly important for any young woman. So if you’re worried about having it, then read on as I’ll be talking about my experience and to combat some FAQ’s.
What is Cervical Screening?
Cervical screening detects abnormal cells on the cervix and is offered free of charge to any woman aged over 25. It’s important to remember that cervical screening isn’t a test for cancer, it’s to check the health of the cells. I think we’re so used to reading the ‘horror stories’ on the news, with cervical cancer going undetected. This is why cervical screening is so important.
How often do you have them?
If you’re aged 25 – 49 you are invited for screening every three years. If you’re aged 50 – 64 it’s every five years. For any woman aged over 65 it’s for those who haven’t been screened since the age of 50, or those who have had abnormalities. You receive your letter six months before your 25th birthday, so the sooner you have it done, the sooner things can be treated if there is something abnormal.
How do they carry out the procedure?
The screening is carried out at your local GP surgery. Book an appointment during the middle of your menstrual cycle as this can ensure a better sample. You don’t really want to be going through it again in a hurry, so make sure you get it right.
You can ask for a female doctor or nurse, which I think really helps and I was lucky that my nurse was lovely and really put me at ease. The process is just five minutes long, which is nothing compared to the degree of importance it is. The nurse or doctor would ask you to undress from the waist down and lie on a couch. It is uncomfortable, getting undressed in front of a virtual stranger. With everything out on show it is out of the norm to do this and there is no room for being dignified. My top tip is to just try not to look at them. Avoid eye contact at all costs!
The instrument that is used is called a speclum and will be inserted to hold the walls of the vagina open, so the cervix can be seen. It looks scary, but try not to think about it. Also, don’t google what a speclum is, as this is what I originally did. There’s all sorts of scary stuff out there on the internet… A small soft brush will then be used to collect some of your cells. Then it’s over.
Is it painful?
It’s not painful. Uncomfortable, yes, and the whole process of getting undressed adds to the somewhat awkward situation you’re in. If you do find the test painful, something isn’t right and you should tell the doctor or nurse about your discomfort. My nurse told me to take slow deep breaths, as the more you tense up, the more difficult it makes it, and it really helped.
When do you get the results?
The results come back between one to two weeks and whether it is good or not so good news. You will always be notified.
What does it detect?
The screening process detects abnormal cells that could potentially develop into cervical cancer. If you are found to have abnormal cells, there will be an option of having treatment to remove them before they have the chance to become cancerous. So it’s important to have the screening done as soon as you get the letter. For every 100 women who have cervical screening, only about six will have an abnormal result. Abnormalities may also indicate HPV (human papilloma virus), which is common, with 8 out of 10 adults getting the virus in their lifetime. For many people, the virus goes unnoticed, so it’s important the cervical screening is done.
Cervical Screening is your own choice, you don’t have to have it. However, the positives of having it, outweigh the negatives. For five minutes of feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed it is nothing compared to what it offers for your overall health.
Find out more information here