Get comfy ladies (and gents, if you want to stick around for this!) we're going to have a big old chat about vagina's, cervix's and that little thing you have to have done when you get to 25, a smear test.
A quick Google search about smear tests (or cervical screening to use the medical term) will throw up dozens of sites offering advice, but buried in among all that advice you will also find hundreds of comments and forums from women dreading their smear test and even women admitting that they repeatedly make appointments only then to cancel them and never going to get tested.
I received my first letter to book an appointment for a smear test back in March, four months before my 25th birthday. A few months managed to slip by and I still hadn't made an appointment, then I received another letter reminding me I needed to make an appointment and somehow another couple months passed by. I kept telling myself I'd make an appointment but I never did, I'd love to say it's because I was super busy and it just slipped my mind but that wasn't the case at all. Truthfully it was fear of the unknown, of not knowing what it would feel like, of not knowing if the whole situation would be really awkward and of not knowing what the results would show.
I know I'm not alone in putting off my first smear test so I'm here to simply say - no to beg - please, please do not put it off! I honestly don't know why it took me 4 months to pluck up the courage to go and get it done, I was in the nurses room for around 10 minutes and the testing itself probably only took around 1 minute. I whole load of worry for absolutely nothing!
Now we've covered that lets get onto what's actually involved with a smear test and debunk some of those myths.
- Smear tests are performed by a nurse at your doctors surgery. You have your first smear test at 25 (you will be sent the letter just before your 25th) unless you live in Scotland then you have your first test at 20. Personally I think the age should be lowered throughout Britain but that's a whole different debate!
- When you get into the nurses room you have a chat about what a smear test involves and check over your basic information (name, date of birth, address etc). You'll be asked if your on any contraceptives (the Pill, injection, implant etc) and when your last period was if you get them on your contraceptive.
- After the chat it's time to whip your clothes off, if your wearing trousers, jeans, leggings or tights they'll need to come off along with your knickers. Skirts and dress can just be pulled up. Once the clothes on your lower half are off you get on the bed and cover yourself with the paper towel material provided. The nurse then tells you to put your feet back to your bum and drop your knees to the sides.
- Myth debunk no.1 "It's going to be really awkard." I'm not going to lie and tell you it's a fantastic experience but it's no where near as awkward as you'll be imagining in your head. The nurse I head made the whole situation as relaxing as she could and put the whole thing into perspective when she said "it's nothing I haven't seen before, just like a mechanic checks lots of cars well I check lots of vagina's" she's completely right plus she made me laugh!
- Once you've dropped your knees to the side the nurse then inserts a speculum (a metal or plastic instrument the holds the walls of your lady bits open so the cervix can be seen) and then she takes a swab of cells from your cervix and removes the speculum. Then that's it test over.
- Myth debunk no.2 "It's going to be painful." In the vast majority of cases your smear test will not hurt. Yes the speculum is cold but as long as you relax no pain should be felt. You feel a slight pressure around your bum which is a little strange but that's about it. If your smear test is painful tell the nurse who will stop and try to reduce your discomfort but again, if your tense, try taking deep breaths to relax as tensing will cause discomfort.
- After your test you wait 2-6 weeks for your results which are posted to your home. In most cases the results will be positive and you won't have to worry about a test for another 3 years. However if your test is negative you will automatically be referred to the hospital for another, more indepth test.
- Myth debunk no.3 "My negative test means I have cervical cancer." No not at all. A negative test means you have abnormal cells in your cervix (not cancerous cells). In some cases these cells will go back to normal on there own, in other cases you will have to have the abnormal cells removed to prevent them from turning to cancerous cells. Only a very low number of women actually receive a diagnosis of cancer from their smear test which is why it's super important to have your smear test done to catch abnormal cells early.