For women who haven’t yet had their first cervical smear test, the idea can be daunting and even a little scary. Here, we look at what having a smear test is really like. It’s not usually a hot topic for conversation and the idea of having the procedure leaves most women feeling clammy and nervous. The truth is, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who looks forward to undressing in front of a relative stranger to have a physical examination.
However, worrying about having the test (or worse, avoiding it) pales into insignificance when you think about the health implications of not having a smear test.
Cervical screening saves 5,000 lives every year. Having regular cervical screening gives you the best protection against developing cervical cancer1.
What Is A Smear Test?
A smear test takes just three minutes. You will be asked to undress from the waist down and lie on a bed with legs bent, ankles together and knees apart. A speculum is inserted into the vagina and cells collected from around the cervix. These cells are sent to the lab for investigation. Between 90-94% of test results come back negative. Around one in twenty will come back ‘abnormal’, but this does not mean you have cancer. Some abnormal results indicate low grade changes which often return to normal of their own accord. However, further investigation of an abnormal result is standard2.
As with everything sexual health related, unfortunately myths and tall tales proliferate, often providing people with a ‘good’ reason not to do something. Dr Eskander, Consultant Gynaecologist at The Gynae Centre, dispels some of the myths around smear tests:
MYTH: Having a smear test is a long process
“No. The test itself takes just three minutes! However nervous you may feel at the outset, it’s good to remember that it will be over quicker than the time it takes to make a cup of tea.”
MYTH: Having a smear test is painful
“Having a smear test might be a little uncomfortable, often made more so by being nervous, but it should not be painful. If your smear test is very painful, this could indicate another underlying health issue such as thrush. Often it is easier and less painful if your health care provider uses lubricant, so if this is not done as a matter of course, you can ask for it to be used.”
MYTH: Cervical cancer is a young woman’s disease
“Actually, cervical smear incidence statistics show that there are two peak age ranges. The first in those aged 25-29, and then again in females aged 85-89. Half of deaths occur in women aged over 653.”
MYTH: I’ve been through the menopause and don’t need to continue having smear tests
“Going through the menopause does not prevent your risk of developing cervical cancer.”
MYTH: The test is designed to detect cancer
“Actually, the smear test is not designed to detect cancer but to look for cervical abnormalities. Not all abnormal cell results will lead to cancer. However, it’s important to remember that early detection and treatment of abnormal cells can prevent up to 75% of cervical cancer cases developing4.”
MYTH: Smear tests aren’t that reliable
“This is not true. Regular smear testing (every three years for women aged 25-49, and every five years for women aged 50-65) will give you a high degree of protection against developing cervical cancer.”
What’s Having A Smear Test Really Like?
Although avoiding smear test might sound like less hassle and one less thing to do in our busy lives, you are putting yourself at risk if you do not have regular testing. Ok, it’s not an ideal way to spend a morning/afternoon, and yes, all of us are nervous at the thought, but it’s quick and effective. The discomfort is minimal and lasts no time at all and there are plenty of tips that can make it a less awkward experience.
- Choose a health care provider that you trust.
- If you are nervous, tell your doctor/nurse. They have experience of dealing with nervous patients and of carrying out the procedure.
- Your healthcare provider should offer you something to cover your modesty whilst going through the procedure. If they don’t then ask.
- If you don’t feel comfortable doing it on your own, you can take someone with you.
- If you would prefer a female practitioner, ask for one.
- Try not to have vaginal intercourse or use creams or pessaries in that area for one to two days beforehand. These ‘can’ interfere with the result.
- Try to be as relaxed as possible. The procedure will be easier and quicker if you are not pent up.
If you’ve had a smear test before, you know what to expect. If it is your first test then the sensation is a little strange and having a vaginal investigation always feels awkward, no matter how many times you’ve had one.
We are so health conscious on many levels today, so why do so many women avoid this vital exam? After all, you wouldn’t continue smoking and eat nothing but fried food if you wanted to live a long and healthy life. So, why avoid a test that ensures your health and wellbeing long term? Having a smear test is nothing to worry about. Not having a smear test might leave you at risk. That’s far more worrying!
Book a smear test with one of our trusted consultant gynaecologists at The Gynae Centre by calling us on 020 7580 8090.