I had my smear last week. Nowadays it’s called a cervical screening test but we all know what I’m talking about. I’ve had loads you see because I am of the age where you had them when you were 17. I am used to them, and I am not afraid of them now.
They can be a bit of a scary thought, but they are really quite important.
Cervical screening is not a test for cancer – it’s a test which detects abnormal changes to cells in the cervix. Detecting and removing abnormal cells can prevent cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer most commonly affects women 30-45, although it can affect any age of woman. It is rare in young women under the age of 25 (hence why cervical screening starts now at 25).
There are very few symptoms, and bleeding in between periods, or after sex, can be an indication (but it could also be a number of different things). Best thing to do if this happens to you is to get checked.
Having a ‘smear’ test is easy. You get a letter from the health authority, letting you know your smear is due. This next bit is very important;
When you get the letter CALL UP AND MAKE THE APPOINTMENT!
If you don’t make the appointment, you won’t go, you won’t get tested, you won’t know what’s going on up there.
Once you have that appointment, you usually go and see a nurse at your doctors surgery.
You get undressed (bottom half) and lie on the the bed, with a white paper towel across your bottom half so you have some difficulty.
The nurse gets their equipment ready, and the thing you’ll notice is a metal or plastic device that gets put in your vagina. It’s called a speculum, and looks terrifying, but believe me, after having a baby, it’s a walk in the park. They usually warm up the metal ones, if they’re nice.
Then, it’s a deep breath, keeping calm and relaxed, and the nurse will begin. They insert the speculum, which will open your cervix, and then they will take a sample of the cells. There can be a bit of fiddling, or moving about, they may ask you to put your hands under your bum, but they will soon get the sample.
Then, it’s done.
But what if…….?
A 2 week wait for results is usually what you get, and then most people will get a letter saying everything is normal. And hurrah!
If it’s not normal, don’t panic. About 1 in 20 tests show abnormal changes to the cells in the cervix.
I’ve been there, and it’s not all bad. But you need to go to your appointments.
I have had a colposcopy, where they take a further look at your cervix, using something that is more or less a big magnifying glass, and they may take a biopsy. I had a punch biopsy, it was uncomfortable but they gave me some anaesthetic to numb the area beforehand. I am not sure how I managed to feel calm and kept deep breathing, but I did.
After the biopsy I had to wait for the results. Many times the biopsy finds nothing, but in my case it found some cells that were a risk.
So, I had to have the lletz treatment. This involves basically removing the cells in your cervix, and they do this using a machine that sounds what I can only describe as a Hoover. I again had some local anaesthetic, and whilst it was uncomfortable, it wasn’t painful. I did have some bleeding afterwards, but it stopped pretty quickly.
If I hadn’t have gone to my smear, they wouldn’t have found these very early changes in the cells. They wouldn’t have taken a biopsy. And I wouldn’t have had the treatment I needed. Left untested, those cells could turn into cancer. When I think of it, that’s a scary thought. It wasn’t nice to go through, but I am so glad I did.
After this, I had a smear test again, and it came back clear. Everything was ok. But that doesn’t mean not to have another when the letter comes through again.
And so here I am again, three years later, and I am having another smear. I know that whatever the outcome, it is worth having, as it works.
It’s Cervical Cancer Awareness Week from January 19th. Make sure you raise awareness, and encourage every woman you know to get their smear test.