A Smear Test, also known as Cervical Screening, is a hugely important topic that receives a lot of discussion. What I don’t hear much through, is when the result comes back with abnormal cells.
Considering the latest public campaigns surrounding Cervical Cancer, I was surprised to see that screening rates have dropped since 2012. Only 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.
Surveys suggest the main reason women are not going for their routine smear test is embarrassment.
I get it. I really do. When I first got that letter through at the age of 25 informing me of my first smear due date, 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 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 only made me fear the smear more, but I knew the alternative would be much much worse. If it hadn’t been for my mum’s smear detecting her cancerous cells, who knows if she would even be with us today.
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 into 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 legs spread. 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 in fact NOT clear and indicated I had abnormal cells. It said I had cells that were showing borderline changes and if left untreated could become cancerous. It also stated I 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.
The Big C
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 split second, until I regained my composure and did what every sane level-headed person would do in this situation, I headed for Dr. Google.
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 is happy and (reasonably) healthy.
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 gobsmacked and wondered how the hell I’d contracted an STI. Considering my partner and I have been together for 13 years, my first thought was obvious. He must have 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 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).
HPV is a virus that can lay dormant for years, maybe even your whole life. It’s 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.
What is a Colposcopy
So, after freaking out, I booked my Colposcopy. They seem to get you in pretty quickly, which only adds to the overall angst.
A Colposcopy is similar to a smear test, it’s performed in a very similar way.
I have to be honest here, I did find this slightly painful. Not excruciating, but I definitely felt it.
During the procedure, they remove a small amount of skin from around the cervix to be taken away and analysed. So, like any type of biopsy, it’s probably going to be at least a little uncomfortable.
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 to wait 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.
On that note, if you want to know more about how PMS occasionally turns me into a fire breathing dragon, take a look at – 3 Reasons You Want To Leave Your Partner During PMS
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.
I would have to have a smear test once a year for the next two years just to keep an eye on things. But in comparison to the alternative, I was more than ok with that.
You can also find more information on Colposcopy and how it’s performed here.
One year on
So here we are, one year later and at the first smear test following the abnormal cells and Colposcopy. I’m currently 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 isn’t it?
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. 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 can potentially save your life.
So, whilst I’m waiting to get my own smear test results, 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 🙂
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.
Feeling rather impatient, 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, then it’s 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 overdue, pull up your big girl pants and just go and book it.