Don't Fear The Smear !
From the 14th to the 20th of June, it’s Cervical Screening Awareness Week. Doctors appointments are never fun, but they can be even more stressful when it comes to cervical screening, or smear tests, as most of us know them by. While they might feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable, it’s a moment of discomfort is worth it for complete peace of mind.
Lots of women delay getting their first smear tests out of embarrassment - but there’s nothing to be ashamed about! Over 5,000 women’s lives are saved each year by regular smear tests, so get that appointment booked!
If you are under 25 or have never been sexually active, you are not routinely invited to have a smear, and there is an ongoing debate about lowering the age of smear tests. Let us know what you think below.
What happens during a smear test?
You’ll be invited for a smear test just before or on your 25th birthday - this is when your routine cervical screening begins. If you ever experienced symptoms such as irregular bleeding or pain, you might have already had a smear before then requested by a medical professional. Either way, you’ll still be asked to make an appointment.
Routine smear tests usually take place in your local doctor’s surgery. On the day, a nurse will go through the process with you before asking you to lie down on a bed. You’ll be given some privacy to take off your knickers, while the nurse sorts out the equipment.
To get into the most comfortable position, they will suggest you put you feet together and let your knees relax apart. The nurse will then insert a speculum with a small amount of lubricant into your vagina, this is a small tube shaped instrument that is not painful. From there, they’ll be able to see your cervix. She’ll then use a soft brush to take some samples from the cervix, before gently closing and taking out the speculum.
And that’s it! The entire appointment should take no longer than ten minutes. You should receive your results within a week or two, either by phoning up your practice or through the post. If your results show no signs of HPV or abnormal cells, your next appointment will be in three years time.
How to make your test more comfortable
If you feel nervous about your smear, there are a few things you can do to make the test as comfortable as possible.
Ask for a female nurse
While most doctor’s offices will set you up with a female nurse without asking, sometimes this isn’t always the case. If you feel uncomfortable with a male nurse or doctor doing the test, be sure to ask if you can have a female nurse while booking your appointment on the phone.
Ask for a smaller speculum
Speculums actually come in different sizes. If you’ve experienced discomfort or bleeding as a result of speculums in the past, ask the nurse if she can use a smaller size.
If it feels uncomfortable, tell the nurse
If things start to become painful, let the nurse know. She might be able to suggest a more comfortable position or try a smaller speculum.
Try to relax!
It sounds really simple, but it’s actually quite hard to do when you’ve got someone inspecting down below! Tensing up can sometimes make things a little more uncomfortable, so try to relax as much as you can. Think about that dream beach holiday while taking in calm, deep breaths - it will be over before you know it! Remember the nurse or GP carrying out the smear does this every day and they are not phased in the slightest with the area they are dealing with, their job is to collect the cells to send to test and to help prevent illness, not how straight your bikini wax is.
Where can I find support?
Booking your first cervical screening and waiting for the test results to come through is bound to anyone feeling a little bit anxious. There are plenty of amazing charities that offer support for women who are nervous about their upcoming results or about the ones they’ve received. Here are some of the best ones we’ve come across:
A lot of these sites have online forums that let you share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences with others. It’s a great way to find out tips and tricks on how to stay calm during the test.
If you can, raise awareness!
Just a simple Twitter or Instagram post reminding others about the benefits of booking their smear test can make a big difference, especially if we all take part. After all, it’s a completely normal thing to have done and can even save lives - so let’s get rid of that embarrassment!
Smear tests aren’t fun, but by sharing our experiences with each other we can help to get rid of the unnecessary embarrassment that so many girls feel. Talk to us on our socials at @believeinbubu!