Last Friday I had a pretty packed agenda for my day off. Amongst the swimming lesson, big food shop and house tidy was an appointment at my local doctors surgery for a smear test. I had received the letter inviting me along around Christmas and had booked up straight away for the next suitable appointment.
I know for some people smear tests (also known as cervical screening) can be a big ordeal, I am fortunate to not find them difficult, but they can literally save your life so please, once you get that invite, give the surgery a quick call or pop in and book yours in.
As I know it can be daunting if you haven’t been before, I thought I would write down a quick post giving you an insight into what happened at my routine smear test. It was my third test as they are offered routinely every three years from the age of 25.
I arrived at my local doctors surgery for my smear test appointment and was seen by a nurse rather than a doctor. The nurse was friendly and ready to put nerves at ease. I was asked if I wanted a chaperone, due to the nature of the appointment, but I declined. I don’t remember being asked this question before, but if you are nervous then you have every right to request one if you feel you want one.
After a few routine medical questions relevant to the screening such as my form of contraception being the mirena coil and roughly when my last period and smear tests were, the nurse stood up and drew the curtain around the bed area.
I was guided into the curtained area and asked to remove my underwear and lie on the bed, which had a protective sheet laid out on top. I had worn a long skirt for the appointment, which I highly recommend, but if you are wearing trousers or jeans, you will need to remove these as well.
Once I was ready, the nurse came into the curtained area and asked me to bend my knees out to the side and put my feet together. This position allows a clear view and access for the nurse to insert the speculum, which is small and nowhere near as scary as it sounds, however you can ask to change position if you need to, and you can also request a smaller speculum.
When inserting the speculum and opening it up inside you, it can feel slightly uncomfortable and definitely isn’t what I would describe as pleasant (my toes always curl when it is done) but it shouldn’t feel painful, although obviously everybody is different and there are reasons why some women may find the procedure a lot harder than others, both mentally and physically. If you need to, you can ask the nurse to stop at any point during the procedure. You are in control.
The nurse explained what she was doing as she went, including noting that she could see the strings of my coil, reassuring me that everything was still in place and ok for this at the same time (two birds, one stone), and letting me know how many times she would be swabbing (five, I believe) and then it was all over.
The actual process of the smear itself took under one minute and the appointment was all over in five. After the nurse had finished taking the swabs, she gently closed the speculum back up and removed it, leaving me to get cleaned up using tissue provided (they use a small amount of lubricative jelly on the speculum to make the process smoother) and dressed again whilst she got everything sorted outside of the curtain.
Before I left, I had a little chat with the nurse again. She was really friendly and made sure I knew when results would likely come back (within a month, generally). She also let me know that they have changed the way the screening is done, with everybody now being screened for the HPV virus, whereas before this was only done if there were abnormal cells recorded from the smear. This was reassuring and I was grateful for the additional information.
If you are nervous about having your smear test done, whether it is your first or not, make sure you still book it, but take along a friend or relative, and let the surgery and your nurse know in advance that you are anxious, so that they can make it as hassle free as possible for you. Cervical Cancer is a terrible disease, but early detection can minimise the risks, so book your smear test today. Don’t delay.