What To Expect When You Have A Smear Test

So, the dreaded smear test letter has been delivered. I say dreaded, as do any of us enjoy them? Exactly.

That letter provokes a number of emotions in all of us; dread, worry, vulnerability, oh and did I say worry? Well that’s what went through my head when I got the invite to have my second cervical screening.

Here’s why.

I had my first smear test (also known as cervical screening here in the UK) when I was just short of turning 25 in 2016. Like the little square I am, I booked my appointment as soon as I received the invite, and off I trotted.

I was fully aware that it wasn’t going to be like a day at Disneyworld but what I wasn’t expecting – was it to be painful.

Now disclaimer – don’t panic.

Okay, so I don’t want to scare you, or put you off, but I would rather be honest with you about my first smear, rather than just saying ‘yes it was fine’ then you go and it could be painful and you’ll think ‘WHY DID IT HURT FOR ME?’

Now, if this does happen, don’t worry, because it can be painful for some people and it’s totally normal. It can depend on a number of things including being tense, where you are in your cycle, and even just where your cervix is placed. 

Okay. Now, it wasn’t terrible pain, like ‘oh my god this is the worst pain of my entire life.’

The lunge track in Body Pump is more painful for me, but it wasn’t pleasant.

Nevertheless, thankfully my results were fine and I didn’t have to worry about it for three years.

So now, rewind a few weeks back. My invite comes through, I mean it’s up there with the worst invites to receive alongside ; an ex’s wedding, a family party hosted by a family member who voted UKIP in the election, a hen party Whatsapp group, an invite to go round and look at a slide show of someone’s holiday photos, a Facebook group created by someone from school (who you’ve not spoken to since leaving school)’s new business venture *cough pyramid scheme* – okay you get my drift. Tell me your worst invites below and we can add them to the list.

BUT here’s the thing. All of those things above- if you don’t go or accept the invite, it’s not that big a deal.

Okay so you might upset Auntie Susan, or Becky from school who you’ve not spoken to since 2007 may be offended you don’t want to buy her aloe vera gel but you know they’ll get over it.

BUT your smear test- you do have to attend. Okay so that’s not technically true. It’s not compulsory, but here’s why you should attend.

  1. It could save your life.
  2. It’s one of the best ways to protect yourself from developing cervical cancer.
  3. Cervical screening saves as many as 5,000 lives A YEAR in the UK

But I ain’t here to get all preachy. Because for some of us, I know it’s easier said than done when it comes to booking that smear test.

And after my first painful smear, I can totally sympathise, as this time around, I was a little more reluctant to book mine.

I know, I know. I put mine off for a few weeks, before finally booking one and going to it (on Thursday morning.)

So I won’t lie, I did worry about it. I was worried it was going to hurt again, I definitely thought too much about how I should do to my bikini line and if everything was all hunky dory down there.

But, I went, and the nurse was lovely, and we got down to business (get your minds out the gutter) and I won’t lie, it wasn’t like I was at a spa day, but she then said ‘oh I’m just going to do another brush as you’ve had a small contact bleed and I want to make sure I’ve got enough cells.’ And I was like ‘ YOU’VE ALREADY DONE ONE?’

I honestly hadn’t felt it, and when she did the next one, again I didn’t feel it. I was like ‘what is this witchcraft?’ 

She clearly had the smear test skills of a graceful swan.

(Oh and don’t worry about the contact bleed, that’s pretty normal too, and this happened last time with me as well. And it was the tiniest bit of blood.) 

So, I came out and was like ‘that was fine.’ I’d built it up in my head that it was going to be really painful and awful and it was totally fine.

So now, I know, it sounds like the usual spiel of ‘smear tests are absolutely fine’ which I know sometimes annoys people, but genuinely it was. I was surprised how fine actually, and felt a little silly at how much I’d worried about it.

My nurse told me how my age bracket 24-30 year olds are the lowest attending age range for smears still. Which makes me so sad, and why I’m writing this post today.

Because if this post gets just one of you to book your smear- then it’s done it’s job.

Now, I totally understand it’s not just a case for everyone to just ring up and book cause you’ve been putting it off.

So, in this post, we’re going to address different situations, how to make your smear test more relaxing and hopefully it may help at least one of you, to feel a bit better about it.

So let’s get started.

What Is A Smear Test?

A Smear Test also known as cervical screening is a test to check the health of your cervix. These are performed every three years (providing results) and every five years if you are aged between 50-64.

Who Is Eligible For One?

If you have a cervix and are aged between 25 – 64- you are eligible. Though you will get a letter about having one, in the months leading up to your 25th birthday.

What Does The Smear Test Consist Of?

Okay, so it sounds a bit scary, but bear with me. So a nurse or GP ( usually a woman and you can double-check/request it’s a woman when you book) will firstly talk to you and explain about what will be happening, if you’re happy, you will get undressed (bottoms only) and you will lie on a bed with your ankles together and knees apart. A speculum which is like a round tube will be inserted into your vagina with lubricant, this then will help to open your vagina ( I promise it sounds worse than it is) which will allow the nurse to see your cervix. They will use a small brush to take some cells, so they’ll literally brush this on your cervix. This then will get sent away to test for abnormal cells. The speculum will be closed and taken out and you’re done. Also you can request they use a smaller speculum if they have one, if you’re nervous about that. 

Will I Have Any Side Effects Afterwards?

Nope, not really. Once it’s done, you’re ready to get on with your day. You may have some slight spotting and cramps which are totally normal. I had a teeny tiny amount of spotting but that was it. If you do have any other side effects such as heavy bleeding and pain afterwards, then go talk to your doctor. 

So What About The Results?

Results will be sent to you in a letter form usually within two weeks of your test, my nurse told me it will probably take mine about 4 weeks as there’s a backlog at the moment. They are checking for abnormal cells in the cervix which *may* develop into cervical cancer at some point. This isn’t a test to see if you’ve got cancer. It’s a test to prevent cancer. If this is the case (don’t panic) you will be invited to go have further tests. Out of 100 tests, 94 will come out as normal.

Okay But I’m Really Nervous About Having A Smear Test.

I get it. I was nervous and it was my second one! If you are nervous, there’s a few things you can do; you can request a double appointment to ensure  you have enough time during the test so you don’t feel rushed, talk to your nurse- she will understand and will try to help to make the process as relaxing and easy as possible. They have to have them too, so know exactly what it’s like to go through one.

Here are some tips to help ease nerves :

  • Remember it’s only a short test, it will take minutes then it’s done. You’ve got this. 
  • Try to keep calm and breathe in and out, I like to breathe in count to five and breathe out counting to five-  this will make you more relaxed and less tense. The more relaxed you are, the easier the test will be.
  • Bring a distraction with you ; music, your phone, a book, etc… just something to look at whilst it’s happening.
  • You can also bring someone with you to chaperone.
  • I always think of really boring things like my shopping list, or my to do list when I’m doing things like this. Mentally going through my shopping list has got me through many blood tests!
  • You are in charge though, if you ever feel uncomfortable or in pain, tell the nurse and she’ll stop, you can stop the test at any time.

I’m Really Worried It’s Going To Hurt 

Totally understand, especially after I’ve just told you my first one hurt. Now, it’s going to be a little uncomfortable, don’t expect to feel nothing at all, but if you do then you go glen coco. 

Now the nurse told me, it feels different for everyone. It can be painful for a number of reasons which are all totally normal, it can be if you’re super nervous and you’re all tensed up so everything is all tight and on high alert. It can hurt purely of what day you are on during your monthly cycle, and it could be just down to your cervix- the placement of it, maybe it’s quite sensitive, etc… 

From looking at this article on the Jo’s Trust website:

‘It can also hurt due to Vaginismus, which is when the vagina suddenly tightens as you try to put something into it, Endometriosis,  Cervical ectropion (cervical erosion) , Vaginal dryness and other post-menopausal symptoms, Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is when the genital area is deliberately cut, injured or changed Clenching, or feeling unable to relax, perhaps due to nerves, anxiety, a previous bad smear test or experience of sexual violence & Other gynaecological issues.’ 

If you’re during your test though and it is painful, tell your nurse. You can stop at any point. Try to relax and keep calm and try breathing exercises and any of the other points I said above about trying to settle your nerves. 

The Jo’s Trust article has some other really helpful tips too. 

But please don’t put it off just because you’re worried it *might* hurt – you never know, it might be okay – just look at me fretting away when it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. You’re brave and you’ve totally got this.  

I Feel Really Self conscious Though About Having One 

I get it. I really do.

First of all, stop over thinking. Stop fretting about whether your vagina is normal, or what your cervix will look like, or what should your pubes look like, because I guarantee the nurse will not care or notice.

They care about getting the test done, getting the sample right and keeping you comfortable. Just also think about how many vagina’s they’ve probably seen, hundreds no probably thousands!

I would recommend either wearing a skirt which you can pull up, or I wore a long jumper which covered everything and made me feel less exposed and made me feel a lot better- also kept me warm as it was a chilly morning. 

The Jo’s Trust page has some amazing articles which are so helpful, these include overcoming nerves, & what to do if you’ve had a bad experience in the past with smear tests.

Now, I know for some people, booking a smear test is a real hurdle and I totally understand and sympathise.

So I’ve done some research, I’ve found a page on Jo’s Trust all about having a smear test when you have a physical disability, and this article is for those with a learning disability – hopefully these will hopefully will make you feel reassured about what’s going to happen.

If you are a trans man, but still have a cervix, you are still eligible for a screening. I’ve found this really informative booklet from the NHS about screening processes when you are trans.  

I’ve also found an amazing project called My Body Back Project who run specialist clinics (it only seems in Glasgow and London though) for trans men and women who have been victims of sexual violence. They have specially trained staff who know how to work with victims of sexual violence and do appointments like cervical screenings. But in a more relaxing environment and can even do your smear test across several appointments if you feel better working up to it. It sounds like a lovely place (the appointments end with tea and cake!) that is such an amazing idea to make something that is incredibly scary a bit more relaxing. Jo’s Trust also have a post on advice about having a smear test after being a victim of sexual violence. 

So, I hope I’ve covered most things, but if not, leave me a comment or send me a DM on Instagram and I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.

But I know as much as it’s not a nice treatment, and it takes a bit of building up to go to, it’s really important to go.

I personally think being uncomfortable for a few minutes is nothing compared to potentially losing my life or having to have much more severe treatments if anything did develop.

Like I said, I’m not here to be preachy, but please do think about it at least.

Some great resources for you :

Jo’s Trust

The NHS Website

You’ve totally got this <3 

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