Your guide to a cervical screening
Say goodbye to "Smear Fear". We're breaking down Cervical Screenings, empowering you with the knowledge to take charge of your health. We know, we know - no one is jumping for joy to get their smear done, let's be real. But when it comes to gynaecological health, we don't play around.
1. It's not something to ignore
200k+ tests are flagged with abnormal cells every year - if left untreated, cervical cancer could develop. Those between the ages of 30 to 35 years old are most at risk.
2. What are you screening for?
When you have your cervical screening, they are testing for any abnormal cells or HPV (human papillomavirus) - a common virus that 80% of us will get at some point in our lives.
HPV is passed on through skin-to-skin contact, it doesn't have symptoms and there is no treatment. This can be worrying to hear, however HPV is common and, in 90% of cases, the immune system gets rid of HPV within 2 years.
There are over 200 different types of HPV and most do not cause any problems. Some cause skin conditions like genital warts and there are types linked to cancer - these types are called high-risk HPV.
99.7% of cervical cancer cases are caused by high-risk HPV, when it causes the cells of the cervix to change. Cell changes alone are not cancer but, if they progress, they may develop into cervical cancer.
3. It's not all doom and gloom
99.8% of cases are able to avoid cervical cancer with treatment! This is why it's so important to go for your screening and get tested.
4. This is what to expect
You will be invited to a cervical screening once you turn 25 years old and then again every 3 - 5 years. During your appointment, a small sample of cells is taken from your cervix for testing.
The test itself should take less than 5 minutes. The whole appointment should take about 10 minutes. Here's the breakdown:
- You'll need to undress, behind a screen, from the waist down. You'll be given a sheet to put over you.
- The nurse will ask you to lie back on a bed, usually with your legs bent, feet together and knees apart.
- They'll gently put a smooth, tube-shaped tool - called a speculum - into your vagina, a small amount of lubricant may be used.
- The nurse will open the speculum so they can see your cervix.
- Using a soft brush, they'll take a small sample of cells from your cervix.
- The nurse will close and remove the speculum and leave you to get dressed - and that's it!
- You should receive your results within two weeks.
5. Know your tools and terms
Having an idea of the tools and terms used during a cervical screening can help you feel more comfortable at your appointment because you will know exactly what the nurse is doing and understand every part of the process.
6. You are in control
It's normal to feel a little uncomfortable about the test. Luckily, you are always in control and you have options you can explore to help the experience go more smoothly:
- ask to book a longer appointment if you think you may need more time during or after your test for any questions or getting comfortable.
- take someone you trust with you - to wait with you or be in the room during the appointment.
- tell your nurse if you are anxious or if there is anything that makes the test difficult for you.
- if you feel uncomfortable, wearing a skirt or dress may help you feel more covered.
- ask for a smaller speculum if you find the standard size too uncomfortable.
- if you're experiencing pain or discomfort ask to change position to your side or fetal position.
- if it would help you feel better, you can ask to hold the speculum yourself as they perform the test.
If you have any other questions or concerns about your next screening or cervical cancer make sure to ask your GP - they're the pros.