Cervical Screening: It’s Smear Test Time!

In December, I turn 25. What does that really mean nowadays? Becoming wiser? Maybe. Cheaper car insurance? Hopefully. But what it definitely means is that I have to start going for smear tests.

giphy

According to the NHS website, a smear test is formally known as a cervical screening test.

A cervical screening test (previously known as a smear test) is a method of detecting abnormal cells on the cervix. The cervix is the entrance to the womb from the vagina.

This isn’t a test for cancer. Instead, the smear test is intended to check the health of the cervix, and to pick up on any abnormalities. 1 in 20 women who are tested receive abnormal results, which sounds like a scary number, but in reality, it means that the abnormalities were caught in the early stages. Around 3000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed every year in the UK, and while it is possible for women of all ages to develop it, it’s more likely in sexually active women aged between 30 and 45.

All women who are registered with a GP are invited for cervical screening:

  • aged 25 to 49 – every three years
  • aged 50 to 64 – every five years
  • over 65 – only women who haven’t been screened since age 50 or those who have recently had abnormal tests.

What about gay women? Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust says you should still go:

All women, regardless of their sexual orientation, who are over the age of invitation should have regular cervical screening. Most cervical abnormalities are caused by persistent infection with HPV. As HPV can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact in the genital area, gay women are equally at risk of contracting HPV and experiencing abnormal cervical changes and, thus, should always attend when invited for cervical screening.

The NHS website says that the test itself should take around 5 minutes. You’ll be asked to undress from the waist down, and lie on the couch. Using a speculum, the doctor or nurse will be able to see your cervix, and they will use a small soft brush to collect some cells.

The procedure shouldn’t be painful, but it could be uncomfortable or embarrassing. You’re advised to relax, and let the doctor or nurse know if it feels particularly painful.

The sample collected is sent off to a lab, and results should be back within 2 weeks. Remember that abnormal does not mean cancer!

The majority of these abnormalities reflect precancerous changes in the cells of the cervix, not cancer.

 

Women who have never been sexually active are not at risk of developing cervical cancer, but if you’re unsure, check with your doctor.

Before The Appointment

I work for a medical supplies company, so I know exactly what a speculum looks like. Hint: it doesn’t look particularly pleasant. Prior to my appointment, I read countless forums and articles about women going for their smear tests. For every twenty positive stories, there was one horror story that stuck out like a sore, ahem, thumb. Bleeding, lack of lube (ouch!). You could end up with a roomful of people – students, nurses, doctors – staring up your punani.

giphy-3

The thing you need to realise is that they’ve probably seen every kind of punani going, so there’s really nothing to be embarrassed about. And if you’re worried about anything, communicate with the doctor/nurse. It’s your vagina,, be vocal about what you need.

There’s a million ways to scare yourself before going to do something like this, but honestly, the only way you’re going to know what it’s like is to go and do it. Which is what I’m going to do, tonight, after work.

The Appointment

Date: 07/09/16
Time: 17:15
Where: GP’s office
Feeling: Shitting a brick

giphy-1

Waiting is always the worst, isn’t it? I booked this appointment a few weeks ago, and now it’s here, I’m terrified.

After The Appointment

Now someone isn’t poking around down there, I can describe how my appointment went. Be warned that my experience won’t necessarily be your experience. We’re all different, and that goes for our vaginas too.

My pubic bone sits low. Did you know that? Because I didn’t. 25 years old and nobody told me my pubic bone is low. That sure explains a few things. So I felt some pain when she was trying to insert the speculum. But, upon realising I was in pain, she had a look and told me about my misbehaving pubic bone. To combat this, I had to put my hands under my bum and lift my pelvis. After that, it was bearable. 

The weather suddenly reverted back to summer, so I was sweltering, my glasses steamed up. She kept chatting to me as she did her thing, and I realised my eyes were screwed shut and my fists clenched. I relaxed a bit, she opened up the speculum then started brushing away. 

I’m not going to lie. That part was uncomfortable. In fact, the whole business wasn’t very pleasant. But the nurse was kind and funny and attentive, and she got the job done quickly. I need to keep the low pubic bone thing in mind for next time, but that’s me done for 3 years. Hurray! 

Now You

We women have a responsibility to look after ourselves. Feminism is all about being free and equal and fierce, but my brand of feminism also means that we take ownership of our own lives, and getting a smear test falls under that category.

giphy-4

So own it! If you’re due a smear test, go get one!

For more information, check out the links below, or chat to your GP or sexual health clinic.

Jo’s Trust | NHS Choices | Cancer Research UK

Cervical Screen 1: A blog raising awareness of cervical cancer screening and treatment, with the aim of sharing information and helping other women.
Also on Twitter: @CervicalScreen1

 

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Cervical Screening: It’s Smear Test Time!

  1. It should be remembered that all cancer screening tests carry risk and hopefully, some benefit – that’s why screening tests are always elective, and legally and ethically require our informed consent. Although that’s mostly ignored in women’s cancer screening, often there is no consent at all with smear testing, i.e. “you need one for the Pill”…wrong! A blood pressure test and your medical history are the only clinical requirements for the Pill. (which should have come off script many years ago)
    I strongly disagree with paying GPs target payments for smear testing, this potential conflict of interest should be at least mentioned to women.
    Note a smear test is also called a pap test in some countries – same thing.
    I don’t have smear tests, rejected many years ago after I reviewed the evidence. I was soon to discover women were not respected to make their own decisions, screening for women was viewed as compulsory, the language was all “must” and “should”…we were just expected to do as we were told and scolded if we didn’t. It was the target and coverage that mattered, not our legal rights.
    While men were given a lot of real information on prostate screening and the exam (later a test) was promoted as a choice, optional. (Prostate cancer is MUCH more common than cervical cancer)
    Anyway, I rejected the paternalistic thinking and approach in women’s cancer screening, found a respectful GP and a note of my decision was simply noted on my file. (so we don’t lose precious consult time)

    The Australian program called for serious over-screening and started far too early, this provides no additional benefit to women but greatly increases the risk of a false positive and colposcopy/excess biopsy or potentially harmful over-treatment.
    As a result, we have horrible and avoidable referral rates for colposcopy/biopsy and treatments, 0.65% is the lifetime risk of cervical cancer, (it was always a rare cancer in the developed world and was in natural decline before testing even started) while the lifetime risk of colposcopy/biopsy under our program is a whopping 77% (many women face over-treatment too – we “treat” more than 10 times the number of women than a country like Finland)
    So many women have been harmed by this testing, especially from inappropriate screening.
    I’ve watched the Finns and Dutch for years, they follow the evidence, don’t waste scarce health resources and put women first.
    Since the 1960s they’ve offered 7 pap tests, 5 yearly from 30 to 60 Sadly, pap testing does not benefit those under 30, but young women are more likely to get a false-positive result, which can lead to excess biopsies etc.
    The very rare case of cc that occurs in someone under 30 usually happens whether they’re screened or not (false negative cases)

    Now the Dutch have moved with the evidence again, they offer 5 HPV primary tests and HPV self-testing at ages 30,35,40,50 and 60 and only the roughly 5% who are HPV+ will be offered a 5 yearly pap test (until they clear the virus) This means more lives will be saved by focusing on the few actually at risk (HPV+) and it takes most women out of pap testing and harms way. (far fewer biopsies, over-treatment & women left with damage to the cervix that can lead to health and obstetric issues)

    Many women could test just once, those HPV- and no longer sexually active or confidently monogamous.

    Anyway, the risks with our program were too high for me, I was content with my near zero risk of cc, now I understand HPV- women cannot benefit from smears but can be harmed – that’s MOST of us.
    So no one needs or must or should have smears, it’s a choice and more women are choosing to review the evidence and make an informed decision not to screen, to screen later, not as often or to look for something better like HPV self-testing.
    All the best
    Elizabeth

    Like

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      Many thanks for your extensive comment, it was very informative. I’ll certainly be looking into this side of things, as I hadn’t heard it before. Women not being taken seriously by health professionals is rife across the world, so this is a subject that feminism should aim to tackle.

      Should you wish to chat further, or perhaps talk about writing a guest post for The Bandwagon, please pop me an email: thebandwagonreviews@gmail.com.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been looking into the effectiveness of smear tests, and read a really fascinating book called The Patient Paradox in which Dr. Margaret McCartney explains the risks of the whole cervical screening system (as well as other screening programmes), and how although it does save lives, it also causes a vast number of women to have anxiety, and complications from pre-cancerious treatments. I myself suffered serious life-changing effects from LEEP, a procedure for removing abnormal cells, and since then I don’t go for smear tests anymore because its not worth the risk for me to be injured while preventing a disease I don’t actually have! I wrote a blog post about my experience, in case you’re interested. Not a lot of people realise how much these procedures can damage women’s bodys, and they don’t even have cancer! https://healingfrommedicine.com/2017/03/29/first-blog-post/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experience! What a fascinating read. I really must look into this more – and, since writing this blog post, I’ve come to the realisation that I was perhaps sending out the wrong message with my blanket statements. Thank you again for sharing your post with me!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s