I recently had my first smear test appointment. This is something I rarely see talked about, so I want to shed some light on my experience.
A quick disclaimer, this blog post is about my experiences, these are personal and I am choosing to share them with you, please keep this in mind as you read. This also contains some medical descriptions of what happened to me and why, so if you’re comfortable with reading about this, then please don’t continue or jump to any headings you’re interested in reading.
I am 23 and I live in the UK, at 24 and a half we are asked to come to our first smear test to detect any abnormal cells in the cervix that could develop into cancer. The reason I had my first test over a year early is because two years ago I went to the doctors with abnormal bleeding (I told you this was personal). I was then sent onto the hospital where I had two cervical biopsies, not nice! I had to wait on the results for these and they came back with HPV1.
HPV defintion: Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name for a group of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body. This can happen in your cervix and is actually very common, a lot of us have it and don’t realise. It is only harmful if there is abnormal tissue growth and other changes to cells within your cervix, leading to cancer.
I was told there is a scale from 1-10 for HPV, 10 is not so good, 1 is possibly just hormonal. So they weren’t worried about me and told me to come back in a year.
I went back, the abnormal bleeding had stopped, I assumed I was fine. After an inspection of my cervix, honestly this is all so dignified, they thought they could still see a dark patch, usually associated with HPV. So I had to have another two biopsies (the biopsy consisted of a tissue sample the size of a grain of rice being taken from my cervix, a little painful and unpleasant for a couple of days after). At this point I will admit that I was worried, the word cancer was mentioned, I turned into a wreck and had a cry in the waiting room.
After a short wait for results I came back with no traces of HPV. The relief I felt! However I was told I would need a smear test the following year.
Now we’re caught up!
When I received my letter I was terrified, I still am as I’m still waiting on my results. I didn’t want to attend my smear, but I knew it was more sensible to attend it now than to brush it off and risk missing any possible issues with my body.
The test itself is very simple, the nurse was lovely and made the whole process very easy. I’ve decided to copy and paste the description of what this tests consists of from the NHS website, because surely they will do a better job explaining it than I would have:
he cervical screening test usually takes around 5 minutes to carry out. You’ll be asked to undress from the waist down and lie on a couch.
The doctor or nurse will gently put an instrument called a speculum into your vagina. This holds the walls of the vagina open so the cervix can be seen. A small soft brush will be used to gently collect some cells from the surface of your cervix.
Some women find the procedure a bit uncomfortable or embarrassing, but for most women it isn’t painful. If you find the test painful, tell the doctor or nurse as they may be able to reduce your discomfort.
Try to relax as much as possible as being tense makes the test more difficult to carry out. Taking slow, deep breaths might help. You can also bring someone along to the appointment with you if you want support.
The cell sample is then sent off to a laboratory for analysis and you should receive the result within 2 weeks.
There – not too hard? A bit unpleasant yes… and a little undignified, but it is fine. It doesn’t hurt and it isn’t too obtrusive.
I have seen some people saying they think these tests should be done sooner than 24 and a half and I wanted to add my piece to that too. When I spoke to the nurse she was initially confused as to why I had come to get my test done this early, until I explained the hospital letter and my past experience. She told me that a lot of young ladies go in to get tested early and they are declined the opportunity to have their sample sent away for results. The reason the test is done from age 24 and a half upwards, is because as young women, we are constantly changing. This could result in inaccurate results and cause a lot of unneeded stress and anxiety for the participant.
I went to the doctors initially for something very small and it ended up causing me a lot of stress and worry. The doctor I went to had a duty of care to pass me onto the hospital which resulted in many more checks. Did I need any of this treatment? Would the issue have done away over time? I don’t know, I think in my situation they were airing on the side of caution, but I suppose that will become clear when I receive my test results (EDIT: the tests results came back clear thankfully!). My point being, there is a reason there is an age set for your smear test. Saying this though, if you are experiencing any abnormalities then please do go to your doctor, I do not regret going.
HELP AND SUPPORT
I have written this post to raise awareness for getting your smear test/cervical screening. Do not pass up on going to get yours when you need it. It is a quick process and if it catches something in it’s beginning steps then it is worth it. I put out a tweet on the day of my test and I was blown away by the support, but also by the amount of people saying how good it was to see someone talking about this publicly. So if you have any encouragement for any readers or experiences of your own, please share them below.
If you feel you need someone to talk to about this process, a fantastic charity called Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust contacted me on Twitter with their number if I needed to talk. If you’re UK based and need help, I would urge you to talk to them.