Cervical Cancer Prevention Week takes place this month from 18th to 24th January and aims to raise awareness of the importance of regular smear tests to help prevent cervical cancer.
There are over 3,000 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed each year in the UK, with most cases being caused by a strain of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease. Although the average age of cervical cancer diagnosis globally is 53 years, it is one of the top three cancers affecting women younger than the age of 45.
Thanks to years of research, cervical cancer can be treated with a high success rate if caught early with a smear test. This is a simple routine test that takes no more than five minutes; it should be painless, but there are some patients who may find the test uncomfortable or embarrassing due to the sensitivity of the area in which it takes place. With this in mind, we have put together some tips to help make your next smear test more comfortable.
1. Remember that your GP or gynaecologist has seen many vaginas before
There is really no need to feel embarrassed at the thought of your doctor seeing your vagina. They have likely performed thousands of pelvic exams, and seen thousands of female reproductive parts in all colours, shapes and sizes.
2. Wear warm clothing
For the test, you will be required to remove your trousers/skirt and underwear. This will make you feel cold and uncomfortable, so wear something warm on your top half, as well as some warm socks!
3. Think of something to distract you during the test
If you are anticipating the speculum being inserted, you may begin to clench your pelvic muscles (which will make the test more uncomfortable). Instead, once you lie down on the examination bed, think of something that will help to distract you during the test. One example might be to think of how you might reward yourself after the test is complete.
4. Focus on your breathing
Controlled breathing techniques are known to relax people in many anxiety-inducing situations. Try breathing in for four seconds and breathing out for eight. If you focus on this pattern, it will help to relax your body as well as distract your mind.
5. Ask for a smaller speculum
Speculums come in a range of sizes. If you feel that you require a smaller speculum, just ask your doctor.
6. Relieve yourself before the test
Needing to urinate can cause you to clench or feel more uncomfortable during the test, so make sure to go to the toilet before it begins.
7. Communicate with your doctor
If you are nervous or worried about pain or discomfort, tell your doctor beforehand. They may be able to talk you through the test to calm your nerves or insert the speculum more slowly. If you are not happy with the way that your doctor performed your last smear test, remember that you can always ask for a different doctor to perform your next one.
8. Take a painkiller beforehand
Some women report mild discomfort for a few hours after having a smear test. Taking an ibuprofen around half an hour before your test may help to reduce any pain or discomfort in the pelvic region during or after the test.
Although the thought of a smear test might cause you worry, remember that this five-minute exam could save your life if cervical cancer is detected. And often, getting undressed/dressed takes longer than the actual smear test! At The Gynae Centre, our friendly specialists can help you feel at ease before, during and after your exam, and talk you through anything that you may be worried about.
Dr Albert Aka, Consultant Gynaecologist at The Gynae Centre, says, “There should be nothing to fear about the process of a cervical smear. Thousands of women have these tests each day and experience nothing more than mild awkwardness. That, in exchange for a life-saving test, should be enough reason to book your appointment!”