What To Expect From Your First Smear Test
In 9 easy steps...
The wonders of being a female human being truly knows no bounds. Not only are you probably blessed to bleed from your vagina for most of your adult life, but you’re also welcomed to take part in the oh so mystical, marvellous magic that is a smear test.
While you're here, why not check out this lot take a super sexy but also super awkward would you rather quiz >>>
But despite the invitation being there, a cervix-shaking one in three of eligible women hasn't ever been for a smear test. So is it forgetfulness, laziness or fear? The screenings themselves get a bad rep as being one of the worst experiences of all time but hey - they’re actually not bad y’know.
Forget all your ideas of terrifying tubey things being shoved up your bits, forget the idea of a doctor judging your lack of wax, and repeat after us; there’s absolutely no scraping going on around here.
Here’s what you CAN expect from your first smear test, in 11 easy, non-scary steps.
1. So what actually is this nonsense?
A cervical screening or a smear test is when the doctor takes a sample of cells from your cervix. A smear test isn't to see whether you HAVE cancer - it's to see whether your cells are changing over time to show if you're likely to develop cancer in the future. Science is cool af.
Detection of anything bad doesn't even necessarily mean the C-word. Some cells change back without treatment. But successful treatment of warning signs usually prevents cervical cancer from developing at all, so attending your test could genuinely save your life. No joke.
2. Do I actually need to go to it?
YES YOU DO - it shouldn't even be a question. Around 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in UK each year, and this magical service that could make such a difference is offered to you for free. Why would you NOT go?
In the UK, you need to be registered with a GP with your current address on file. In England, Northern Ire-land & Wales, women aged 25– 49 are invited every three years, or five years when slightly older. In Scot-land, the age is lowered to 20 and raised to 60. If you fit the bill, then a letter will drop onto your doorstep like a Hogwarts invitation for your vagina.
3. How long will I be there for?
Let’s just say this first and foremost: a smear test is super speedy, painless and NOTHING to worry about. All in all, the appointment usually takes no longer than around 20 minutes, while the actual procedure is only three minutes.
Of course it's probably gonna be uncomfortable because y'know… you’ve got something going up your vagi-na and a stranger investigating what’s going on. But who cares, they’ve seen a million of ‘em before, yours is nothing special (soz), and this could Save. Your. Life.
4. The big and all important Step One: Entering the room.
In the UK, it’ll probably be done by a practice nurse, but could also be a GP. Don't forget, you're allowed to take a relative or a friend in with you if you’d like some company, and you can also request a female nurse if it'll make you feel more comfortable.
Before anything comes anywhere near your vajeen, the nurse will sit you down and explain exactly what is going to happen, what she's going to do, and answer all of your questions to make sure you’re chilled out af.
5. Step Two: Having the actual examination.
It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for, ladies. REJOICE. You’ll be asked to undress from the waist down (top tip: if you are wearing a skirt you can leave this on and just remove your knickers) and to lie on an exam-ination bed on your back, either with your legs bent up or with your ankles together and your knees apart.
Next, a paper sheet will be placed over the lower half of your body, and your nurse will then insert an instru-ment called a speculum into your vagina - sometimes with some lube on it, which will make it easier to slide right on up there. Aaaand we’re in.
6. Step Three: WTF happens then?
The speculum (sounds scary, absolutely isn’t) will be very gently and slowly opened up once inside your va-gina, so that the nurse can see inside the wonder that is your cervix. And don’t worry, speculums come in different sizes, so while the nurse will know what she’s doing, you can ask for a smaller one if you are feeling like your poor old vagina is struggling a bit.
You’ve got to remember that your vagina is designed to push out an actual human being, so a speculum isn’t really a biggie in comparison.
7. Step Four: The last part.
Remember, this all happens in a matter of minutes. Before you can even blink, it’ll be done. But the nurse will then use a tiny brush to collect the sample from the area, by sweeping (not scraping) and packaging it up to send off for examination.
You can sort of feel it, but sort of not feel it. It's a bit of an odd sensation, but it ain't painful. And that’s it, done and dusted, Bob’s your uncle, how’s your father, etc etc.
8. Does it actually hurt?
Everyone's body and sensitivity is completely different, so it's only right to say that for *most* women, cervi-cal screenings are not a painful experience. The word ‘uncomfortable’ is a better fit.
The only way things might hurt a little is if you’re tense enough for your vaginal muscles to be working up a sweat. Consciously relax, and trust science that you’re in good hands. Having said that, do let the doctor or nurse know if the pain feels wrong. You may have some very light bleeding for a day after the procedure too, but that's normal.
9. Getting your results.
Waiting time for your screening results varies, so it's a good idea to ask on the day just how and when they will let you know. NHS guidelines reckon it should be within two to six weeks.
If there are no abnormalities and everything’s A-Okay, you’ll just receive a confirmation letter, and you’ll be called up to do this fun stuff all over again in three or five years time. Occasionally, your results will be incon-clusive because there weren't enough cells collected etc etc, so you'll have to pop down again for another one. Ugh.
On the flip side, the specialist looking at your cervical screening test might feel it would be a good idea for you to be reviewed by a doctor. Sure, that could be a scary possibility, but remember that that's the whole reason that you're doing this. Don't be scared about it, you’re just looking after yourself.
An abnormal screening result RARELY means cancer. Between 90% and 94% of all screening tests are negative. In a nutshell, it’s not worth stressing over. Around 5 million women every year will be getting this done, and the horror stories just ain't true.
What is true is that cervical cancer is the most common form of cancer in women under 30, so do not put off getting it done. Embrace the speculum, yay vaginas.
- Words by Lucy Wood.