Cervical screening, also known as the smear test, is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent cervical cancer but that does not mean people look forward to it. In reality, the thought of having the test makes many people nervous especially if it is their first time – so know you are not alone if you feel nervous!
Statistics show that 99.8% of cervical cancer cases are preventable (Cancer Research), so it is worth taking the step to attend your smear test, even if you feel anxious. In this blog, Rebecca Gibbs, BGPA Communications Officer, shares her experience of attending her first smear test.
When the time came for my first smear, I received a letter followed by a text invitation from my GP Surgery inviting me to call to book my appointment (this may differ depending on how your practice operates).
Filled with nerves (not helped my by anxiety disorder), I arrived at the GP surgery and waited a short time before being called into the room by a very friendly nurse, who instantly helped with my anxiety. I realised that we are often worried about smears because we haven’t had it before or we don’t have it that often (every three years). Meaning, we have a long period of time to harbour misconceptions and allow for nerves to build.
My nurse explained how normal the pre-smear anxiety was, she discussed how long she had been conducting smear tests, her personal experience (and how she still gets nervous too). She went on to further explain the importance of the smear, and discussed the test with me, showing me a speculum so I knew what to expect.
Once we had spoken in-depth and my nerves lessen, she gave me privacy to undress and asked me to lay on the examination bed – you will be usually asked to lie in one of two positions:
- On your back with your legs bent, ankles together and knees apart
- On your left side with knees bent
The appointment itself didn’t last long and the screening is very quick – in fact, I timed the smear itself and all-in-all it lasted around 30 seconds.
During the screening, a nurse will insert a speculum into your vagina (usually plastic, but can be metal) which will then be opened gently to give them a clear view of your cervix. A small brush will then be used to obtain a sample from your cervix – which, from experience, feels a bit unusual and weird, but not painful.
Following this, the nurse will place your sample into a container to be sent for testing and then you’re done! You will be given privacy to dress again and your nurse will explain the next steps and when you’re expected to receive your results (usually in 2-4 weeks).
Your sample will be checked for certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause changes to the cells of your cervix. If these types of HPV are not found, you will not need any further tests and will be scheduled for your next smear in three years. If these types of HPV are found, the sample is checked for any changes in the cells of your cervix and these can then be treated before they have a chance of turning into cervical cancer.
After your screening, you may have some light bleeding/spotting for a day after the test so it can help to come prepared with a sanitary pad (but this doesn’t happen to everyone) and you should have your results within 4 weeks.
I left my screening, rewarded myself with some ice cream and realised how important it was to have your smear. Those 30 seconds, whilst awkward, may save my life – if you’re invited for your smear test, please ensure you book in.
- Wear a dress or a skirt – this helps with privacy, it made me feel more comfortable knowing I didn’t have to completely undress
- Talk to your nurse – I found this so helpful and really great at relieving my anxiety
- Talk to your friends – I discussed my smear experience with my friends afterwards as they hadn’t yet been for theirs. They found that the experience of a friend helped to ease their own preconceived anxieties and helped to make them feel more comfortable.
- Get yourself a treat for afterwards – there is nothing more rewarding than something sweet, so I made sure to have something nice to come home to and enjoy!
This blog was written by Rebecca Gibbs, Communication Officer for BGPA, and advocate in raising awareness for the importance women’s health.