I had a smear test live on camera to show what it’s REALLY like (and, ladies, don’t worry about getting a bikini wax beforehand)June 11, 2019
AS I propped myself up on the bed and sank my head into the plump pillow, I felt calm and relaxed.
The setting wasn’t too dissimilar to my own bedroom, a white and minimalist colour-scheme embellished with wooden furnishings.
But one thing made this room distinctly different, the lady in a white coat. This wasn’t my bedroom. It was a doctor’s surgery. And I was just about to get my smear test.
There were two rather daunting looking stirrups at the end up my bed. Knowing how clumsy I am, I plonked one foot in each to keep myself stable and analysed how filthy my white Adidas trainers looked.
Next to me stood a sterile tray with a pot of solution, lubricant (not as pretty as the Durex ones in Boots), speculum and the cervical brush.
This brush, the thing that actually collects the cells from the cervix, looks a bit like a large plastic cotton bud or a lollipop stick with a small bit of white plastic at the end.
I was quite surprised that its head, no bigger than a 50 pence piece, was going to collect so many cells from my cervix. I was relieved that it didn’t look remotely intimidating.
Next to it sat the speculum packaged in paper. This is the tool that’s inserted into the vagina during cervical screenings to create an opening to the cervix.
Unlike the metal reusable ones of my parent’s generation that supposedly chilled your insides, speculums today are plastic, disposable and come in various sizes.
Your doctor will pick the size that’s right for you (although admittedly whatever size you get, it’ll still feel like the biggest one).
As I pulled my legs towards my chest in preparation for the test to start, I thought about a booklet I’d seen earlier. "More than 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the UK, and almost 900 die annually," it read.
It's currently Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, which runs from June 10-16, but the question remains why are so many women today avoiding their smear tests?
According to health charity, Jo's cervical cancer trust, embarrassment plays a huge part, with one in three women admitting to finding the procedure nerve-wracking.
Now rates are at their lowest in two decades and doctors are urging women to book their smear appointments to catch signs of cancer as early as possible
“It’s a very simple procedure,” explains Dr Evelyn Owusu-Siaw. ”I talk patients through the stages before asking them to remove just their underwear and trousers or jeans.”
How we can make a difference
Fabulous has partnered with cervical cancer charity Jo’s Trust to launch #CheersForSmears, a campaign aiming to ensure women across the UK attend their screenings, no matter what.
In many surgeries, smear tests are only available at certain times or days, making it difficult for some women to book an appointment.
That’s why #CheersForSmears is calling on GPs to offer more flexible screening times and make testing available outside of office hours and at weekends.
We also want employers to play their part in helping to ensure that their female employees can attend potentially life-saving cervical screenings if they are unable to get an appointment outside of working hours.
Help get your employer involved by emailing [email protected]
Shoes and skirts can be kept on. Luckily, I’d unintentionally opted for a skirt that morning – something that Dr Evelyn recommends doing if you’re worried about feeling exposed.
The doctor did a quick internal examination by hand before beginning the test.
Like most women, and having only ever had one smear test before, I found it difficult to relax as the well-lubricated, plastic device disappeared between my thighs.
I wouldn’t describe the feeling as painful, maybe just uncomfortable. It feels quite strange and foreign having a stranger’s face so close to your lady-flower outside of a sexual situation.
You can help us spread the message by joining in on social.
We're asking women to share a photo with a pair of knickers and the hashtag #CheersForSmears tagging the women they love in their life, to remind them to get tested on time.
Cervical screenings save 5,000 lives every year – but let's make that number higher!
Please make sure to also tag @fabulousmag and the charity Jo's Trust (Twitter: @jotrust, Insta/FB: @joscervicalcancertrust)
After checking that I was still comfortable, Dr Evelyn inserted the lollipop stick through the speculum and began to gently scrape the lining of my cervix.
I’ll be honest, I really didn’t feel much at this point. I could sense what felt like a dull and odd tickle but before I could think about it, the stick was swiftly removed.
“All done,” she said, placing my stick into the solution and twirling it around. Much quicker than I thought.
She removed the speculum in one fluid motion and the test was over and done with in five minutes. Left with some tissues, the curtain was drawn and I popped my knickers back on.
What is a smear test?
- A smear test, or cervical screening test, checks for abnormal cells on the cervix (the womb's entrance from the vagina).
- If any abnormal cells are found, these can be removed – to stop them becoming cancerous.
- This is a preventative measure, and does not mean you already have cancer.
- For one in 20 women, these checks will pick up some abnormal changes.
- It's possible for sexually active women of any age to develop cervical cancer, but it's most common in women aged 25-29.
- The condition is very rare in women under 25.
- Women aged 25-49 are offered tests every three years, while women between the ages of 50 and 64 are tested every five years.
I had bled during my first smear test and expected the same this time. But this didn’t happen.
Bleeding is perfectly normal though and some women even spot for a while afterwards.
The lining of the cervix rarely gets touched, (not even during intercourse, as it’s quite high up) so some people bleed a little.
In hindsight it seemed a bit silly that I was so nervous beforehand. The whole process was relatively pain-free, albeit slightly invasive.
It is important to note that smear test results can be affected by where you are in your cycle.
“The best time to get your smear is mid-cycle,” Dr Evelyn tells me.
“If you’re screened too close to your period this can interfere with results and sometimes gives a false reading for abnormal cells. We don’t want anyone to be unnecessarily stressed or worried.
“Lots of young ladies miss their smear tests, but there’s really nothing to be embarrassed about. I see so many women every day and everyone is different,” she says.
Should you shave or wax before an appointment? I ask. “You shouldn’t shave or wax solely for my benefit,” she reassures. “I really don’t remember which vagina belongs to who in all honesty.”
I can genuinely say, I didn’t feel remotely embarrassed during my cervical screening.
We’re all ladies and we all know what a vagina looks like, groomed or ungroomed.
Everyone’s different though, so if you still feel anxious and are thinking of delaying that appointment, I have just one thing to say – those five minutes of embarrassment, could just save your life.
Sophie had her test at Doctor Call of Harley Street.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is defined as when the disease starts in the neck of the womb, otherwise known as the cervix, according to Cancer Research UK.
In 2014 there were 3,224 new cases – and 890 deaths, which means its the most common form of the disease in women under 35.
Generally, it's caused by persistent infections with the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is contracted through sex.
Thankfully, most young women in the UK are immunised against it, although boys aren't.
Two strains of the HPV virus (HPV 16 and HPV 18) are known to be responsible for most cases, but most women who have them don't develop cervical cancer.
This is why some women find smear test more painful than others – and how to ease the discomfort
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