Going for your smear test could help save your life. Get the lowdown on what you can expect & how to overcome ‘smear fear’
If you’ve never had a cervical screening before and your appointment letter has landed on your doorstep, you may be a little nervous (understatement of the century). Preparing for the unknown and psyching yourself up for your first one can be slightly daunting, as it’s difficult to know what’s involved. We’ve got your back though, girl. You’re probably (definitely) worrying about it way more than you should. Understanding the screening process can help to calm your nerves. Let’s chat through what happens during the test so you know what to expect.
What is a smear test?
A cervical screening or smear test, is a test to help prevent cancer. Sample cells are collected from your cervix (the opening to your womb from your vagina) to check them for early changes. These changes could turn into cancer if left untreated. Even though it’s a super important test, too many women miss their cervical screening each year through embarrassment or fear of the unknown. It’s too important for excuses. Here are six things you can expect to happen during your appointment.
1. You’ll probably be a little nervous
If the day rolls around and you’re worried, this is totally normal and you’re definitely not alone. Going for a cervical screening isn't anyone’s idea of a super fun day out. There are a few things you can do if you’re feeling the nerves. Chat to your gal pals or female family members beforehand about how you’re feeling. They’ll be able to reassure you that there’s nothing to worry about and that it’ll be over in a flash. Maybe opt for an evening appointment if that’s an option, so you don’t have to worry about heading back to work afterwards. You could even plan something nice for afterwards as a little treat for yourself. Maybe a pamper night at home or visit that new restaurant you’ve been meaning to try.
2. You’ll meet the nurse & have a chat
The first thing you’ll do at your appointment will be to meet the nurse. They’ll run through what will happen during the test and answer any questions you may have.
3. You’ll go behind the curtain & get undressed
The nurse will show you the private area where you can get ready. You’ll need to undress from the waist down, including your underwear. If you’re not up for stripping off, you may find it easier to wear a skirt or a dress that you can easily lift up on the day of your test.
4. You’ll get into position
Once you’re on the bed, the nurse will tell you how you need to position yourself. This is usually with your legs bent, feet together and knees apart (oh how elegant). It may well resemble a yoga pose you tried in class the other week. This is probably the part of the appointment that you’re dreading the most, as it feels so unnatural to be exposing that area of your body to a complete stranger. If you can feel yourself getting awkward or embarrassed, take a sec to remind yourself this is their day job. They’ve seen it all before and, honestly, they couldn’t care less how things are looking down there. All they’re bothered about is getting the test done.
5. You’ll have the test
Time for the main event itself. The nurse will encourage you to relax and will gently put a tube-shaped tool (a speculum) into your vagina to open it slightly. A small brush that strangely resembles a long mascara wand is swept across the cervix to collect a few cells. This may feel a little uncomfortable for a few moments, but shouldn't be painful. These cells are then placed into a plastic container and sent off to the lab to be examined. The nurse will take the speculum out and you can get dressed again. That’s it! Done and dusted.
6. You’ll finish up, feeling super proud of yourself
The nurse will give you time to get yourself dressed and let you know when you can expect your results. This is usually via letter and should arrive within two weeks, but they can take longer. Call your GP surgery to see if they have any updates if you’ve waited longer than expected. Next step you’re outta there girl! You may experience spotting or light bleeding for a few hours after the test. Don’t worry, that’s totally normal.
Don’t let your nerves cloud how important it is to attend your smear test. Is it going to be the highlight of your day? Probs not. But is it going to be worth it? Yes, yes, a million times yes. Your health should be prioritised over any short-term embarrassment. Tick it off your to-do list and get it sorted.