I realised a few weeks ago that despite promising myself I would not miss a smear test for love nor money, I have in fact missed a smear test. I was due to have it last year, around June time. Alas, it didn’t happen.
But I’ve decided I’m not taking the blame for this one. I’m placing the blame squarely at Covid’s door. If it wasn’t for Covid-19, my doctor’s surgery wouldn’t have forgotten to send my reminder letter and I wouldn’t have forgotten to book it in.
I also don’t blame the surgery. Being a few months into a global pandemic, I’m sure they had plenty on their plate that rightly took priority.
Now I’m 5 months pregnant, it doesn’t look like that smear will be taking place any time soon. But it did get me thinking… How many other people have missed their smear tests? I’m not talking about Covid coming along and screwing everything up. I’m talking about missing it just because they don’t want to have it done, usually because of fear or embarrassment.
With that in mind, I decided to do a quick post on ‘What is a Smear Test & Why You Need One’. Hopefully, this can alleviate some fears and instill some urgency in the need to get it done.
What is a Smear Test?
If you’ve never heard of a smear test, you’re either too young to even need to worry about it, a man, or have been living under a rock.
If you are one of those people, a rock dweller who somehow manages to get WIFI and is reading this right now, then let me explain what it’s all about…
A smear test (aka cervical screening) is a small procedure that checks the health of your cervix and is usually completed at your doctor’s surgery.
The purpose of a smear test is to check for changing or abnormal cells around the cervix. It’s not a way of detecting cancer but a way of preventing cancer.
Why is a Smear Test needed?
If you have a cervix and you’re between the age of 25 & 65 then you are at risk of developing cervical cancer & need to have regular smear tests.
The main cause of cervical cancer is a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). Almost all of the population will have had some form of HPV at some point. It is a virus that can lay dormant and not cause any problems at all.
However, for a small few, it can raise its ugly head and make itself known. In some cases, the virus can cause changes to the cells around the cervix, which can then become cancerous.
This usually happens over a long period of time. From around 5 to 20 years, which is why it’s important for women to have regular smear tests to make sure the cervix remains healthy.
On average in the UK, there are around 3200 women diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. To make sure you’re not one of them, make sure you have a smear test when it’s due.
If you’re worried about the results of a smear test and would like to know what happens if your found to have abnormal cells, take a look at a previous post I wrote when I experienced abnormal cells myself – Smear Test ~ Abnormal Cells. This post also explains a little more about HPV. I promise it’s not as scary as you might think.
Who needs to have a Smear Test & how often?
As I mentioned before, anyone with a cervix and between the age of 25 & 65 needs to have a smear test. Although, in my personal opinion, I believe smear testing should start from an earlier age. Although it’s rare, cervical cancer has and does occur in the under 25’s age group.
How often you have a smear test can vary depending on the results of your last test. If all is fine and your cervix is healthy then it’s recommended you have a smear test every 3 years. If however, your last smear was abnormal it’s likely you’ll be advised to have a smear test yearly until the problem is resolved.
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…
You will be asked to undress from the waist down and lie on the bed. With your knees bent, you will need to put your feet together and drop your knees to the side. You will be given a ‘modesty’ sheet to pop over your lady area so you’re not completely exposed. This does make the whole process a tad less embarrassing.
The nurse will insert something called a speculum, which is a long, thin, clear plastic tool that holds open the walls of the vagina so the cervix can be seen.
She will use a small soft brush to brush around the cervix and collect some cells. If you’re wondering if this is painful, I would honestly say no. You can feel the brushing around the cervix to some degree but I don’t find it painful, 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 dressing 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 afterward.
Piece of cake
Even with a cervix that likes to play hide and seek it’s 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.