Everything you wanted to know about smear tests
Around six million women are sent letters each year inviting them to their doctors to have their cervical screening test (also known as a smear test). Your mum, your sister, your best friend, the lady behind the till at Sainsbury's - they’ve all had one. Once they hit 25, they’re all invited to down their underwear, open wide and potentially save their lives.
Smear tests have a bit of a bad rep. They can feel embarrassing and a quick google search shows thousands of women with ‘bad experiences’. I even know friends who haven’t gone because their mums had said their own smear tests were horrifying - disclaimer alert - they aren’t.
“I don’t mind doing smears, they’re all in a days work for me” admitted my nurse right before she asked me to pop behind the screen and remove my underwear. Less than 5minutes later I was popping my knickers back on, and telling myself “that wasn’t so bad” and I’ve made steps towards protecting myself against cervical cancer.
Thing is, there's a lot of confusion around smear tests. People don’t realise you get it every three years. People don’t realise its not a horrific experience, and people don’t realise you can ask for a female nurse. The worst thing people don’t seem to realise is that having cervical cancer is way worse than two minutes wearing no knickers in your doctor's surgery.
So let's take a look at everything you really wanted to know about smear tests but didn’t want to ask… or google!
What causes cervical cancer?
More than 99% of cervical cancer cases within the UK happen in women who have previously been infected with HPV. But having HPV doesn't mean you'll definitely get cervical cancer. Because 1 in 3 women will develop HPV infections within two years of having regular sex and 4 in 5 women will develop the infection at some point in their lifetime.
I haven’t been having sex so I don’t need a smear tests
HPV can show no symptoms, and therefore go undetected for months - or even years! Even if you're a virgin, and your risk of developing cervical cancer is really low, there may still be a risk and its better to be safe than sorry.
I haven’t had any symptoms so I'm not going to go
It's wrong to think that because you don’t have symptoms, you don’t need to go. The symptoms of cervical cancer are difficult to spot. More obvious visual things like bleeding after sex are often put down to your period going haywire and pain during sex isn’t always as obvious as its sounds.
Can I have my smear test if I'm on my period?
The short answer is yes, but it's not recommended. It is best not to have your smear test done during your period because it can make it difficult to get a good sample of cells and it might need to be repeated. It's best to rebook.
My friends mum said it hurts, is it true?
I was on the verge of tears by the time my nurse asked me to pop my knickers off on the first one, and then once she started, it was absolutely fine…after it was over, I felt like calling everyone I knew to say ‘ CERVICAL SMEARS ARE FINE, WHY DOESNT ANYONE SAY THIS?!’
Next time I went, I was calm before during and after, almost enjoyed going because I knew I was making sure my body was healthy, and I barely felt anything, its like inserting the worlds biggest tampon then taking it out again. Although that might sound strange, It really doesn’t hurt at all.
What do they put in you? It's like a plastic dildo with no centre, so the nurse can use a tiny tool to collect some cells from your cervix.
Is it true that they scrape your cells and that's what hurts?
The nurse is just collecting cells, not grouting tiles so there's absolutely no scraping involved.
Do they talk to you through it?
Absolutely, every detail if you need it! You can also ask for a chaperone to come in the room with you.
Why do some people bleed afterwards?
It's true that some people do bleed afterwards, but not everyone. It's just because the cells on your cervix are very delicate.
How long does it take to get my results?
It shouldn't take any longer than a few weeks. But don't be afraid to give your doctors surgery a quick call if you haven't heard back.
If I have abnormal cells, does that mean I have cancer?
Absolutely not. Your gp surgery will send a letter explaining everything and again if you have any questions don't be scared to ring your GP and ask!