A cervical smear test can be an intense experience. I vividly remember sitting in the waiting room before my first exam, panicking and already late for work. At the time I was twenty-five, the recommended age for your first cervical smear here in the UK. Until then I’d never had anyone see my genitals bar my husband or other sexual partners. I was completely clueless as to what to expect. Would the nurse laugh at me? What if they couldn’t get the doo-da (speculum) in? Was it going to hurt and if so, how much?
What is a cervical smear test & why are they important?
A cervical smear test, also known as a PAP smear, is a quick and simple test to check for abnormal cells within the cervix. While abnormal cells are fairly common and often occur naturally, some can develop into cervical cancer.
“In short, attending your cervical smear test as often as required can help save your life.
You’re eligible for a cervical smear test if you have a cervix, are between twenty-five and sixty-five years, and you’re sexually active (or have been).
As the cells develop within our body, we often get no signs or symptoms of abnormal changes. Therefore, it’s extremely important that you attend a cervical smear to establish a better idea of your cervical health.
5 Tips for making your cervical smear test a more comfortable experience.
Be open & honest.
Instead of stressing myself out, I should have been completely open and honest with the nurse carrying out my assessment.
If you’re feeling insecure and embarrassed about the procedure, ask for a female doctor or nurse when booking your appointment. Some practices have no issue with this request, but it’s always best to be prepared.
Before you’re called in for your examination take a minute to think about anything that you should tell your GP or nurse. This could be things such as sexual history, discomfort during intercourse, vaginismus, PTSD, if you have infrequent penitatrive sex or if you aren’t yet sexually active. Depending on the circumstance, any of these issues could cause the procedure to be a little more uncomfortable than usual. This is normal and you shouldn’t worry, it’s simply because your body isn’t used to it.
Once in the treatment room, the nurse will go through some questions before asking you to lay back on the bed. If you’re feeling worried about any pain or discomfort during the procedure, it’s perfectly fine to express your concerns to the nurse. They’ve seen it all before and chances are they’ll have some tips to help you focus on relaxing. You should also request a smaller speculum as they usually have one on hand for ‘first-timers.’
If you find that things are feeling uncomfortable during the procedure, express your concerns to the nurse and try adjusting your position. Often you’ll find that they might even take things slower and add additional lubricant to the speculum to alleviate discomfort.
Once again, allow me to reiterate, always speak to your nurse about any concerns you have before, during, and after the procedure.
Timing is important!
Although it’s possible to get a cervical smear test during your period, many advise against it as it can decrease the accuracy when checking for things such as HPV (Human papillomavirus). It’s best to rearrange your smear for the beginning or end of your cycle if at all possible. If you have to reschedule, make a note of the date and ensure that the next appointment you make won’t cause the same issue.
Don’t know when your period is due? Period tracking apps are great for helping us track our cycle, including when your period is due and even when you’re ovulating. That being said, there are some of us who are always caught off guard by Aunt Flo. In this case, simply do the best you can to guestimate when she’s going to pay you a visit.
Don’t be afraid to do your research.
Although my motto for health concerns is usually ‘don’t go online’, it’s a rule i’m willing to bend for smear tests. If you take the time to do your research, it can really help to ease your anxiety and can even make the experience more tolerable. It’ll never be the most comfortable thing in the world. You wouldn’t go for a smear test as a way of enjoying yourself, but it’s necessary and can be a real life saver. So why not search for some helpful tips to make things a little easier?
Make sure you’re prepared.
There are a few things you can do to prepare yourself for your cervical smear test physically and mentally. In regards to physical, there are certain things to avoid in the hours leading up to your smear test.
Avoid having intercourse twenty-four hours before your smear test as any lubricants and semen can impact the results. Although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it reduces the chances of having to return for a repeat smear due to inconclusive or abnormal results. It’s best to also avoid douching, using vaginal medications, using lubricants and using tampons. These things can also hinder the results.
If you’re feeling nervous why not try taking medication to help yourself relax? There are various things that have been proven to help such as Rescue Remedy, Kalms or even valerian.
As for preparing yourself mentally, there are a variety of things you can do such as practicing your breathing a few days before, then the night before and finally ten minutes before your examination. Leave enough time so that you’re not rushing to or from the appointment, reducing the need to stress about time constraints (I know this isn’t always possible, but it’s something we can often forget about). There are some great breathing techniques found in this post.
Finally, if you’re able to, it might be helpful to have someone you trust with you. Although this might not always be possible, I personally would have felt much better had my husband been with me.
Don’t be embarrassed, they’ve seen it ALL before.
Worried about your nurse or doctor judging your genitals? Concerned they won’t be able to fit the speculum in? What if there’s a smell? These worries are all natural, though, even for the more seasoned smear-test-taker. And what’s more, is the concern that comes after the exam. Because the results aren’t immediate, we often have to wait up to a week for our results to come through. During that time, it can be all too easy to lose sleep over the possibility of bad news. But here’s the thing that no one tells you; abnormal results are more common than you think! In fact, it’s thought that 1 in 20 smear results come back abnormal, while only 1 in 2000 will actually result in a cervical cancer diagnosis.
So, in conclusion, the nurse has seen it all before and abnormal results don’t necessarily mean the big C.
This week (20.06.22) see’s the beginning of Cervical Screening Awareness Week 2022.
It’s important to raise awareness about cervical smear tests throughout the year, but especially during this week.
According to Jo’s Trust, cervical cancer is the most common form of cancer in women (and those with cervices) under 35. Currently, two women die daily in the UK from the disease. A routine cervical smear can prevent up to 75% of instances, saving 5000 lives a year. Yet, many are still reluctant to attend regular tests.
Don’t be one of them. Whether it’s you or someone you love, don’t be afraid to reach out for help and advice.