Never Fear Your Smear: My Experience and Why It’s So Important

Just before I turned 25 I got that letter asking me to book my first smear test.

I have to admit lying butt-naked on a hospital bed didn’t really tempt me to jump at the chance of booking my test but I soon realised a few minutes of embarrassment could protect me against on of the most common causes of cancer for us ladies.

A few weeks ago I finally had my test at my local surgery and it turned out to be the most stress free, simplest of procedures. The female nurse made me feel very comfortable throughout and kept talking to me explaining what she was doing and within 10 mins I was out and heading back home.

Now I completely understand this is not the experience everyone has. I was extremely nervous simply because of the stigma and negativity that surrounds a ‘smear test’. But I hope the information I share can help you and your health in some way.

How to prepare

I found the best way to prepare myself for this examination was to do some research and gain an understanding about why we do smear tests, there importance and to find out what happens during a screening.

As well as reading the information provided by the NHS I found watching/reading people’s personal experiences really beneficial. A few I would recommend and found really insightful was India Moon’s Smear Test highlight on her Instagram, she also led me over to watch Zoe Suggs Live Smear Test vlog which was so informative and reassuring as she takes you with her to the appointment and you can see step by step the procedure, I also read Where’s Mollie blog post.

Smear test and COVID 19, where do I stand?

The latest government advice is to attend your smear test. Invitations are being sent out and many surgeries have put safety measures into place, keeping you and the doctors/nurses safe. ‘Try not to put off cervical screening. It’s one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer.’ Find the latest information from the NHS here.

What is a smear test?

A smear test can also be referred to as a cervical screening. The aim of the test is to look for high-risk types of HPV that can cause cell changes. By finding cell changes early a screening can help reduce and prevent cervical cancer from developing.

Why is a smear test important?

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35. A cervical screen is very important because it picks up changes in your cells on your cervix before they develop into cervical cancer.

  • A cervical screening can save lives by preventing cervical cancer from developing.
  • Screening saves around 5,000 lives every year in the UK
  • Screening can pick up changes to your cells even if you look and feel healthy

What age can you get a smear test?

Women aged 25 to 64 years old are invited for cervical screening. If you are aged between 25 and 49 you will be invited every 3 years, aged 50 to 64 every 5 years.

When is the best time to book my screening?

It is advised to make your appointment when you will not be having your period. The best time is around your mid cycle, so roughly 12 days after the first day of your period.

How do I book my test?

Once you have received your letter through the post it will ask you to book an appointment with your local doctors surgery or you can visit a sexual health clinic.

How long does the appointment take?

The test itself only takes 5 minutes and is carried out by a nurse in a private room. In total I think I was with the nurse for a max of 10 minutes.

What happens during the smear test?

Prior to the screening the nurse will explain the importance of a smear test and what will happen during the test, also answer any of your questions.

The nurse will ask you to undress from the waist down, there will most likely be a screen for you to undress behind, and lie on the bed. You will also have a sheet/paper towel to put over yourself and

* I’ve known a few ladies prefer to wear skirts or dresses as then you can use that to ‘protect yourself’ and not just the sheet *

When you are ready the nurse will enter behind the screen and ask you to lie back on the bed with your legs bent and knees apart. Gently the nurse will insert a speculum into your vagina so that they can see your cervix. They will then gently brush cells from the cervix using a soft brush. The nurse/doctor might spend a minute or two doing this to get a good amount for the sample. The speculum will then be removed and placed in the sample pot. You will then be left to get dressed!

* Just remember you are always in control of the test. If you want to bring someone with you inform the receptionist when you book your test. Also keep talking to the nurse throughout the test to let them know how you feel, there is so much they can do to help you feel comfortable and reassured *

Does it hurt?

As previously mentioned everyones experiences are different. For most it should not hurt, but for some it can feel a little uncomfortable. The nurse has a wide range of different size speculums to suit us all, but if at any time during the screening you are uncomfortable or in any sort of pain let your nurse know.

Is spotting/bleeding normal after the test?

After the test there can slight spotting or light bleeding, this is completely normal and usually lasts a short while but it does not mean anything is wrong.

When will I get my results?

You will receive your results by post within 4 weeks of having your screening. Your doctor will also be sent your results.

What might my results look like?

Your results will either show as negative meaning Human papillomavirus (HPV) is not found in your sample and you will be invited in 3-5 years times for a check up and another screening.

Or you results will show positive, but there are 2 types of positive results.

The first being: HPV positive but no abnormal cells which means you will be invited in 1 years time for a screening.

The second being: HPV positive and abnormal cells which means you’ll be asked to have a colposcopy (a procedure to look at your cervix)

I can confirm that my results show I am HPV positive and show abnormal cells. I am currently waiting for my colposcopy appointment and will share the next part of this journey with you soon.

Additional information:

The NHS

Cancer Research

Macmillan

I hope you find this helpful and it sheds a little light on something that we rarely and hesitantly talk about.

I would just like to note I am not a certified doctor or nurse and I am simply speaking from my own experience and advice that has been given to me. For all details and information please either call your GP or visit the NHS website.

Love, AR