Like many women in the UK, I was invited to have my first smear test at the age of 25. Just 4 months after the birth of my daughter. At that time, having recently given birth where everyone and his son was in the room, I had the confidence to book my smear test straight away.
My first smear test wasn’t as straight forward as I had hoped due to the position of my cervix but I was assured that if I came back in a couple of days, there would be a more experienced nurse there that would get the job done. She was right. A few days later and I was booked in for my 2nd attempt and it was over before I knew it. A positively better experience from the first attempt. At that time, I wanted it over and done with quickly, I didn’t want to make small talk and I didn’t want to ask any questions.
Within a couple of weeks I received a letter to say that I had the all clear. For a brief 5 minutes of discomfort, it was worth the relief when I received that letter. Each time I have been for a smear test since, it has become a little harder to book myself in and I tend to wait a month or two before biting the bullet and making the appointment. Sometimes it’s my anxiety getting the better of me. I start wondering “What if the results aren’t what I want?” “What if they find something”?” etc, but the only way that I will find out is to have the test. That’s the reason for this post today, the rate for women attending their smear tests in the UK, is at an all time low and the numbers are continuing to decline.
Two weeks ago, I received my reminder in the post and rather than putting it off, I booked an appointment for the following week. The sooner I got it out of the way, the sooner I can stop worrying about it for hopefully another 3 years.
Last week, I had my 5th smear test at the age of 34 and I’m currently waiting for that letter to arrive with my results. I cannot stress the importance of having these tests, they can help save so many lives. So, I thought I would do a little Q&A and also ask some other bloggers about their experiences.
One of the first questions that I have been asked is;
“Does it hurt?”
For everyone the experience is different because all bodies are different. I honestly think that where you are in your cycle, also plays a huge part in the levels of discomfort. But in answer the the question, I’ve never been in agony, I’ve found a few painful but nothing unbearable. My most recent screening was uncomfortable at most but the whole process was over in a matter of minutes. It’s not a walk in the park and I’ve yet to meet anyone who has said they enjoy the experience but it’s no way near as bad as I had envisioned.
Just to add there are different sized speculums, you can talk about these with your medical professional before the test. You can always request to use a smaller speculum.
When do you start having cervical screening?
In the UK, women are invited for their first smear test when they are 25.
How long does it take to get my results?
That completely depends on the area. I live in Manchester and it was suggested that the results can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks to get back to me. Some areas of the UK could be more, you can ask at your appointment what the average waiting time is.
I had abnormal results, does that mean I have cancer?
No, it doesn’t mean that you have or will develop cancer. Most results are normal and a small number of results abnormal, showing early changes to the cells of the cervix.
How long does it take?
Honestly, my first cervical screening test took longer than expected due to the position of my cervix. Subsequent tests have taken less than 5 minutes.
Do I need to shave?
No, not at all. As long as you are clean, I don’t think anyone conducting the cervical screening will care if you are impeccably waxed or sporting a full bush of hair. It’s their job, just another vagina to them.
What should I wear?
Anything that you are comfortable in. Some people, like myself prefer to wear a dress or skirt to help with modesty but there are no rules on what to wear.
How do they collect a sample?
A small soft brush is used to take a sample from your cervix, it’s over before you know it
What happens after?
You might experience some spotting or light bleeding after your cervical screening test. Its completely normal, as is mild cramping. This should go away in a few hours.
I asked some fellow bloggers if they would be happy to share their cervical screening experiences and I had quite a few responses. A common theme with them all is that they stress the importance of having the screening done.
”I had mine 6 weeks after giving birth to my second child, during my consultant check up for a 3rd degree tear – it was quick and painless and I can honestly say really wasn’t worth the worry. I’d have been far more worried wondering if something was wrong and I’d not been tested”. – Sarah Hurst from Arthurwears
”I am really uncomfortable with my body, and find it hard to ask a doctor for help but I know how important a smear test is. I go regularly for mine, it’s quick, painless and over in minutes. Nothing to worry about! Just don’t overthink it!” – Tors Childs from Mum Times Two
“I had mine 6 weeks after my son, and while looking at my cervix the Doctor said ‘oh’ and fetched another Doctor. I had a lump on my cervix. They referred me straight away to the hospital for them to have a look with a specialist and immediately they diagnosed a Nabothian Cyst. I was discharged the same day after having my smear done again, and given the clear for three years in the days after. Even if they find something that isn’t quite ‘normal’, it might be something that shouldn’t keep you up at night!” – Natalie Johnson from Muddy Footprints
“I once had a smear test that involved the lady mentioning an interrogation lamp, and a poster of Rab C Nesbit on the ceiling above my head saying ‘How about it Hen’. Made an uncomfortable experience a bit more bearable.” – Donna Mills from The Sleep Thief’s Mummy
“The last time I was in and out in ten minutes and nothing to be fussed over. If you book them to coincide with when you’re ovulating it will be easier. I’ve had an abnormal smear and CIN 3 cells so I always book mine as soon as I get the letter.” – Frances Taylor from Whinge Whinge Wine
“I went for mine this week. 2 days after having the letter so I didn’t have time to dwell on it. Quick and easy out within a few minutes.” – Rachel Bustin from RachelBustin.com
“I have a posterior cervix which has made doing a smear tricky for some nurses but now I know this I can tell them once I’m in and they can ensure they are more careful and can aim in the right place. Talking to the nurse is really important to make it as smooth as possible” – Emma Reed from EmmaReed.net
“I always go, but I’ve had good and bad experiences. Allowing students to do it meant I was in agony ha! But they have to learn, right?! I always worried about how it all looks, but since having kids, I’d take being a little embarrassed over risking not going any day.” – Kelly Allen from Our Transitional Life
”I allowed mine to become overdue (more forgetfulness than anything else) and I finally got around to it a couple of weeks ago. For a few moments of discomfort it’s worth it for the peace of mind. Thankfully mine was all clear but I was well aware if it wasn’t, the early it gets picked up the better.” – Jennifer Gladwin from Mighty Mama Bear
“I have vaginismus and I have suffered a confidentiality breach from an NHS worker in the past so I find them extremely difficult. Last time the nurse let me do most of it myself and she supervised to make sure I was doing it right. With an understanding nurse this could be an option for those who find them difficult. Telling others just to go and get on with it isn’t helpful and adds to the stress because it invalidates the very real fears lots of women have. Instead we should open dialogue and ask what we can do to make this easier for those with barriers and fears.” – Shaz Milligan from Rock Paper Spirit
”The first time I had mine was not long after I had my son and it really hurt. The second time I was given the option of a smaller speculum and it turns out I have a narrow pelvis. It was a much better experience and didnt hurt at all.” – Joanna Victoria from Joanna Victoria
“I went to mine with two toddlers and a baby and they were so good to all of us and even brought in another nurse to entertain the little ones. The experience was calm and so positive.” – Hannah Pym from Saving Moving Mummy
“I’ve had really varying experiences. Generally they don’t hurt me but after my daughter I had one or two that really hurt and made me bleed. I had no idea there were different speculum sizes, I’ve never been offered different ones. It was only my last smear that I was informed that I had a tilted cervix too!” – Nyomi Winter from Nomipalony
“I left mine way too long. I had my twins at 30 and was constantly berated (rightly so) for never having one done. As soon as I was able I got booked in and luckily everything came back all clear. The nurse was so helpful and had a great sense of humour, I really had nothing to fear!” – Rebecca Bolton from Living With Peas
”I find smear tests quite traumatic due to my medical history. I also find them painful as well as invasive, including several days of bleeding and cramping. But they’re so important. I always tell the nurse when we start and they take the extra time and let me know every step of the way how it’s going and I always feel mentally positive that I’ve braved them, and of course a lot more confident about my health when they come back clear.” – Christy Bruckner from Welsh Mum of One
“Try to relax as much as you can. I’ve heard people saying it was uncomfortable and I’ve always found that medical examinations are if you are all tensed up and working against it.
It’s so quick, simple & could save your life.” – Nicola Merralls from The Merralls Home
“My first one I was super nervous but the nurse was incredible. She kept me chatting and telling jokes and while it isn’t the most comfortable thing it was over in seconds and I wondered why I ever worried!” – Rebecca Powell
“Oh I have had so many smear experiences. The cold ones, the one where my baby was screaming throughout, and the one where she couldn’t find my cervix But as I have also had treatment to remove pre-cancerous cells, I know how ruddy important they are” – Lisa Cornwell from Mumma Scribbles
“I had a student nurse do one once. I’m all for letting them as they have to train, but it took 30 MINUTES of poking and prodding before the nurse took over. I kept saying it was fine, as I felt sorry for her, then burst into tears in the car park it was so painful! But always worth going. I had dodgy cells once that had to be “burnt” out. Basically described to me by the consultant doing it as “scraping out my insides with a burning hot cheese wire” So after that a smear is a doddle!” – Helen Copson from Twins, Tantrums and Cold Coffee
“The only time a smear test has ever hurt me was when a stray pubic hair got caught in the speculum!” – Josie Cornhill from Me, Them and the Others
“So important to have and life saving. They really are. My mum has had abnormal cells spotted and I’ve only ever had positive experiences and limited pain. Except when the gynae decided that talking about the new Star Wars film and lightsabers was suitable mid examination” – Helen Neale from KiddyCharts
”I am one of the very few that find it painful. The test is so important to have and can be lifesaving so the pain is worth going through as it is only short lived and so worth the alternative. My tests have so far come back clear.” – Faith Stephenson from Raising Moonbows
If you take anything away from this post, please let it be that you don’t delay or ignore your cervical screening test. Get yourselves booked in!
Cervical Screening saves lives!