It’s something that every woman has to have, but until you get that letter in the post just before you turn 25, it’s not really something you consider. I was the same. I hadn’t really given any thought to my cervical screening until I received that letter. But I was so glad I made an appointment to get checked over. Here’s why…
For anyone that may not know, a smear test is essentially a test that allows us to find and treat early changes in the cervix, which is the neck of the womb. If left untreated, these abnormalities could develop into cervical cancer later on in life.
The first cervical screening I had was in 2013, a couple of months before my 25th birthday. Like most I got the letter through the post, so I made the appointment and went in. I wasn’t scared, or didn’t put it off. I just wanted to get it out the way.
It was really straightforward; you strip off from the waist down (I was wearing a long maxi skirt so only had to remove my underwear) and lie on the long ‘bed’ in the nurses office with your feet pushed together and knees relaxed to the sides. She inserted an item called a speculum into my cervix which opened it up, and then stuck a long cotton swab inside and took a small sample of the cells there. It was completely painless; I had no discomfort, no bleeding. Other have had mixed responses, with some reporting minor discomfort whereas for others it was painful. I think it really does just depend on the individual. For me, the whole process took around 5 minutes in total. Easy peasy.
My results came back around a week later. It turns out that I had what is known as low-grade dyskaryosis, which is essentially minor cell changes. This doesn’t mean they are cancerous; normally they clear up and return to normal on their own. But if left untreated or unmonitored they could become worse.
They also test these cell changes for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which can increase the risk of cervical cancer. It is a really common virus for women to get through being sexually active (It’s not a sexually transmitted disease) and most times will clear up on its own without you ever knowing you had it. The Nurse told me it’s the equivalent of the common cold.
If you come back positive for HPV, you are given an invitation for a Colposcopy, which is where the Doctor uses a magnifying lens to look a little more closely at the cells to determine a treatment.
Because I tested positive for HPV as well I had to go for a Colposcopy, which is essentially the same as a smear test, except for the use of the camera. This was conducted at the Womens Hospital, in Birmingham.
Again, this was not painful in the slightest. It was actually quite interesting to see, as the Doctor I had showed me the cells on the monitor, and she was able to talk me through what she could see. The abnormal cells were about the size of a 5 pence piece, and had gone a whitish shade, which obviously stood out against the normal pink colour. She determined that I did not require treatment, but I should have a follow-up smear a year later.
This follow-up smear in 2014 also came back with low-grade dyskaryosis and positive for HPV, which meant I needed to go for a second Colposcopy. It was determined during this time that the cells had gotten worse (still not severe enough to be classed as high-grade dyskaryosis) and I required a biopsy to determine whether treatment was required. This was the only part that was painful, and I did bleed after. The Doctor basically took a small sample of the cells with a mini pair of scissors, which was sent off to the lab for testing.
Treatment was not required, and a follow-up smear a year later was recommended, which I attended in 2015. Again, I had low-grade dyskaryosis, but by the time the appointment came for the Colposcopy I was pregnant with my Son, so could not undergo any further examinations.
Last year, after my Son was born, I had a follow-up Colposcopy appointment and was given the all clear. Just as that first Doctor had told me, the cells had cleared up on their own and were now classed as ‘normal’. A follow up smear has been recommended for later this year (I actually had the letter through the other day) just to check their status, but if they come back as all clear I’ll go back to having a routine smear test every 5 years.
Despite this not being as severe as it may sound, I am very thankful I went and had this looked at several times. If I hadn’t of known about this, it may have gone untreated for years, which could have proven dangerous later on in life. And I will continue to go for regular smear tests, and tell other people about the importance of having regular smear tests, to try to prevent cervical cancer later on in life.
It takes 5 minutes of your life to go for a smear test. What else can you do in 5 minutes? Paint your nails? Make a cup of tea? Brush your teeth? 5 minutes. In the times it’s taken you to read this blog post, you’d be done.
And as cheesy as it sounds, but that 5 minutes could save your life. It’s once every 3 to 5 years. Surely you can spare 5 minutes every 3 years just for a little peace of mind?
Just don’t leave it, thinking ‘I haven’t got time right now‘ or ‘I’ll get it done later‘. Just phone up and make the appointment; get it out the way now, before you forget. One in four women do not go to the screening appointments when invited to. Don’t let that be you.
Cervical Screening Awareness Week is during the week of the 12th-18th June.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust