#51 Don’t ‘forget’ to book in for your smear tests

Lottie.  I’m 27.  I had developed a somewhat huge phobia of smear tests. Anyway, last week at the Doctors I had to have some other tests done (I’m fine), and he told me off for not having had my smear test.  I should have had it two years ago.  A smear test was the last thing I wanted.  I’d never really thought about it and hadn’t spoken to anyone about it, and had loads of questions, but felt a bit shy to ask.  So, here I am to tell you everything, from the other side of the smear, from my experience:

  • The current age you should start having smear tests is 25, but some activists are currently trying to lower the age, as they believe younger girls should also be protected by this brilliant screening programme.
  • It doesn’t hurt.  It doesn’t.  I thought it would.  You lie back, mostly covered with a sheet.  They have to open you up to see the opening to your cervix, which is where they take the cells from.  They use a little plastic contraption to do this.  It’s a bizarre sensation, I’d describe it as an odd, strong pressing feeling. And it’s over in seconds.  My nurse was brilliant and talked me through my breathing beforehand so I was really relaxed and chilled out.
  • They use a little brush on a swab to take the cells with, you barely feel it and it’s not painful.
  • You may see a tiny bit of blood on the swab.  That’s okay and normal.  It’s also not abnormal to bleed a tiny bit after.  So don’t worry if you do.  Nothing’s wrong.  (If you experience prolonged pain or bleeding, get it checked out, but this is extremely unusual.)
  • My nurse had a chat with me before, and I hope yours will too, but if she doesn’t this is what my nurse said:  ‘You are in control at all times, it’s your body, if you are uncomfortable or don’t like anything, tell me to stop, because you are in control of this.  Don’t feel like you HAVE to suffer anything you are finding difficult.’ As soon as she told me this, I felt so much more relaxed.  Even if your nurse doesn’t tell you this, the same applies.
  • It helps me to remind myself that the nurse will probably do several smears a day, thousands a year, millions in her lifetime, your vagina will be no different to any of the other million vaginas she’ll see.  So don’t worry about it.

Here’s a little more info for you from he NHS website: “Cervical screening is not a test for cancer; it is a test to check the health of the cells of the cervix. Most women’s test results show that everything is normal, but for around 1 in 20 women the test will show some abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.

Most of these changes will not lead to cervical cancer and the cells may go back to normal on their own. However, in some cases, the abnormal cells need to be removed so that they cannot become cancerous.”

They also test for Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Some types of HPV can increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.  Almost all women with cervical cancer have at least one of these types of HPV in the cells of their cervix.  If they find one of these, it means they’ll refer you to hospital for more regular screenings so that they can keep an eye on you.  If they don’t find this then you won’t need another screening for 3 years.

It’s really important Lottie.  And actually, I didn’t find it embarrassing or awkward at all as I’d imagined, the nurse was lovely, we had a chat, she talked me through, we even had a bit of a giggle at some points.  It is your responsibility to look after yourself, so as soon you’re old enough, book yourself in.  Don’t ignore it.

There’s also something in this about facing your fears, but I think that’s a blog for another day.

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