Smear Test & Abnormal Cells
Smear Test also known as Cervical Screening is a hugely important topic that needs much more discussion then it probably gets. As does the result of abnormal cells.
Considering the latest public campaigns surrounding Cervical Cancer, I was surprised to see that screening rates have dropped since 2012. Around 72% of women aged 25 – 64 have had a smear test within the period recommended for their age. This is quite worrying when you take into account the stats that around 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, just in the UK.
Survey’s suggest the main reason women are not going for their routine smear tests is embarrassment. And i get it. I really do. When I first got that letter through at the age of 25 to tell me I was due my first smear, i’m not going to lie, I sh*t my pants (not literally, thankfully). The thought of opening my legs to a complete stranger, with everything on show, made me feel a bit sick.
I worried that maybe I didn’t look like everyone else (you know, down there) and what the nurse/doctor would think – as if they even care what my moo looks like. I put it off for a few months, but luckily for me, my mum was doing a great job of breathing down my neck so I had to go just to shut her up.
She had good reason too. At one stage she had to have cells removed, which made me fear the smear even more but I knew the alternative would be much much worse. If it hadn’t been for my mums smear detecting her cancerous cells, who knows if she would even be with us now.
A Smear a Year
So, I’ve recently had another dreaded Smear test. Well, I say dreaded, after having your (ahem!) ‘bits’ inspected as much as I have (and I don’t mean in a good way!) I don’t have the same fear of the Smear as I once did. I actually surprise myself when I walk in the doctor’s room with no apprehension whatsoever.
I’m not saying I skip through the door or don’t feel extremely self-conscious when up on the bed with my ‘moo’ on show. But I just don’t have the same nervousness as I once did.
This is my second smear test in two years. I had one this time last year which played out exactly how it normally does, except for when my letter came through with the results.
I received two separate letters that arrived at the same time. One letter revealed on that occasion my smear was not clear and indicated I had abnormal cells. It said I had cells that were showing borderline changes and I also had a HPV infection. Therefore, I would need to attend an appointment to have a Colposcopy completed which would confirm if any further action was needed.
First thought… ‘What. The. Hell!’
The second letter explained what a Colposcopy is and why it might be needed. It also made a point of stating that abnormal cells are not a cancer diagnosis.
To be honest as soon as the ‘C’ word was mentioned, my world started to crumble just slightly, just for a slit second! Until i regained my composure and did the one thing anyone would do in that situation, I hit Dr Google, which was sure to tell me it was nothing serious.
Well, yes and no.
What is HPV?
Surprisingly, there’s a lot of information on the net that states HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. Yes, a fecking STI! Initially, I was kind of gob smacked and wondered how the hell I’d contracted an STI. Considering my partner and I have been together for like, forever, my first thought was he had cheated as I certainly hadn’t.
Thankfully, before calling him in a fit of rage, demanding to know who he’d been with, I checked out some more recognised sites and found out a little more information.
Whilst it’s true that HPV is passed on through sexual intercourse it can also be passed by just skin to skin contact. Apparently an extremely high percentage (like 98%) of the population has HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). In most cases the virus will lay dormant for years, maybe even your whole life. However, in some cases it can raise its ugly head, usually when the immune system is low and cause some issues in the form of abnormal cells (or in my case borderline changing cells). HPV is usually dealt with by the immune system but sometimes it can cause changes to the cells around the cervix which can then develop into cancerous cells. And as I’m sure you know, if not dealt with, can then lead to cervical cancer.
The Big C
I can say that I 100% expected the letter to come back clear, just like the last one. So, I was quite shocked when it didn’t.
I immediately thought about the worst-case scenario and what I would do should I ever be diagnosed with some kind of terminal illness like Cancer. I know it sounds dramatic and people have abnormal cells in their smear tests all the time (around 220,000 per year to be a little more accurate), but people die from ovarian cancer! How much more serious can it get.
It really got me thinking about life and family. It also makes me realise how lucky I am, that everyone close to me are happy and (reasonably) healthy.
So, after freaking the fu*k out, I booked my Colposcopy. They seem to get you in pretty quickly, which adds to the whole ‘sh*tting my pants’ part of it all. A Colposcopy is similar to a smear test in the sense of its kind of performed in the same way. But I have to be honest here, I did find this slightly painful. Not excruciating, but I definitely felt it.
But lets be honest… they’re doing a biopsy, so obviously they have to take a sample of skin around the cervix. Of course it’s going to be hurt a little. There’s a reason they have a nurse in the room to hold your hand.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t crying in pain but gritting of teeth was needed at a certain point.
Following the Colposcopy, I had a period of waiting to get the results. I think it was around two weeks, sooner if it’s bad news. It was long enough to convince myself of the worst (naturally). I’m pretty sure i was having a bout of PMS at the time so obviously the world was ending and i was taking it out on my other half.
If you want to know more about how PMS occaisionally turns me into a fire breathing dragon, check this out – 3 Reasons You Want To Leave Your Partner During PMS
Click here for more information on a Colposcopy.
When the results finally came through, I was relieved to find the changing cells seemed to be down to the HPV infection and things were expected to get back to normal once it had cleared up and I would have to have a smear once a year for the next two years just to keep an eye on things.
One year on
So here we are, one year later and at the first smear test following the abnormal cells and Colposcopy. I’m (slightly anxiously) awaiting the results. I’m trying not to worry too much though. I know abnormal cells are fairly common and whatever happens, we’ll deal with it. It’s a case of having to really.
I can tell you one thing for sure, it has certainly put a rocket up my arse. I will never again miss or delay a smear test as long as I live. No amount of discomfort or embarrassment is worth potentially having cervical cancer which. As i’m sure you already know, if not caught early enough can and does kill! In 2016, 854 women died from cervical cancer in England alone.
If you’re currently putting off your Smear because you hate the thought of it, please just go and get it done. It takes two minutes and those two minutes of embarrassment or discomfort can potentially save your life.
The Smear Test process
As I’ve now had my fair share of smear tests, i think it’s only right I provide a little run down of how the process goes…
As I’m sure you can imagine you have to undress from the waist down and lie on the bed, put your feet together and drop your knees to the side. They normally give you a little ‘modesty’ sheet to pop over your lady area whilst your legs are spread, this does make the whole process a tad less embarrassing.
This is the point where I usually have to first my hands under my back to give the nurse a better angle. For some reason my cervix plays hide and seek every time, which results in me being in a rather awkward position with my arse basically in the air like I’m doing a bloody yoga move. Most people don’t have to do this, my body just likes to make things difficult.
She will use a small soft brush to brush around the cervix and collect some cells. I would say you can feel the brushing around the cervix, but I don’t find it painful at all, just odd and slightly uncomfortable.
As soon as the cells have been collected, your back up off the bed and getting your knickers back on in no time. The nurse will likely leave you alone behind the curtain for the undressing and redressing part, so you do have a little privacy. The whole process usually takes less than 5 minutes.
I suggest using a panty liner as some people have slight spotting afterwards. Oh, and you might have a small amount of discharge from the lubricant used (I know I’m painting a delightful picture).
Piece of cake
Even with a cervix that likes to play hide and seek they’re really not that bad. Yes, it’s embarrassing and slightly uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t say it’s painful in any way. And considering the alternative, having a Smear Test is a piece of cake.
So, whilst I’m waiting to get my own smear test results following the abnormal cells, feel free to comment and share. Or use the contact form below to share your own ‘smear’ experience, i would love to hear it.
Just don’t put it off!
Wish me luck 🙂
Update: I had my latest smear 8 weeks ago now. Although i was told i would get a letter with the results within 6 weeks, i hadn’t received anything. Not being able to wait any longer, today i phoned my doctor. They confirmed over the phone that the results are in and all clear. YAY!
I will likely have to have one more smear next year, just to make sure everything remains clear and then it will go back to being every 3 years again.
I’m so chuffed i might even have a glass of red to celebrate.
Thank you for joining me on my smear test journey, i hope you’ve found this post helpful and encouraging. If you haven’t had your smear test and are over due… Pull up your big girl pants and just go and book it.