Warning: TMI. If you’re a man, related to me, or just easily offended you might want to click away.
We’ve all got to do it. Well, all of us with a cervix have to at least. What am I talking about? Cervical screening of course. The smear test. Or “pap smear” if you’re American. That dreaded letter you get just before you turn 25.
A quick overview for those unfamiliar with the test. The cervical screening test is to detect whether there are any abnormal cells in the cervix, which if untreated could lead to cervical cancer. If the test detects abnormal cells- you can then get them removed, and- yay!- you don’t get cervical cancer! Great right? In the test itself, a plastic instrument called a speculum is inserted into the vagina to open it up so the nurse can find your cervix, then a small brush is used to take the cells. Sounds really scary but it’s not as bad as it seems, honestly!
For obvious reasons, I was a little more scared than usual about the smear test. For ages I wasn’t sure whether I had to go or not. It said on the leaflet you don’t have to go if you haven’t had sex yet, but I’d done other stuff and wasn’t sure if that counted, and I was too embarrassed to have that conversation with a nurse, so I put it off. And put it off. Until I read a status on Facebook by a girl from my university who went to the test and found out she had cervical cancer. She had to have part of her cervix removed but luckily it had been caught at an early stage so she didn’t have to have chemotherapy or anything. So that scared me into booking it but to answer the question- if you’re completely untouched you don’t have to go but if you have had any form of sexual contact you may have contracted the HPV virus so make sure to book your test!
Beforehand I was nervous. I was terrified that they wouldn’t be able to get the speculum in, or that it would be excruciatingly painful. But it wasn’t that bad. Tip- if you’re a virgin, or a gold star lesbian, or have vaginismus, or whatever- let the nurse know beforehand and they can use a smaller speculum. The nurse managed to get it in OK, but it got too painful when she opened it up. She suggested I lie on my side instead, which was easier. When she opened up the speculum and looked around it was painful, but not unbearable. However… she couldn’t find my cervix. So I had to reschedule and come back another time.
I researched into it to check I wasn’t some form of cervixless being, but apparently it’s common in taller girls- so if you’re tall prepare for that one. I went back another day, and after 3 tries the nurse managed to find it. Some people have said it’s painful when they use the brush to scrape the cervix but I couldn’t feel anything. I also heard a couple of horror stories about having cramps for days afterwards, but that didn’t happen either. Once it’s done it’s done, and it’s a nice feeling of relief to have it over with. Then a couple of weeks later I got the letter- I was clear. I don’t have cervical cancer!
So overall, the test isn’t anything to worry about- it’s one of those situations where the fear of the thing is much worse than the thing itself, if you get me. But make sure to get it done- like the example I gave earlier, it can save lives.
You can find out more about cervical cancer and screening at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.