It's Hard Being A Woman; A Smear Test Uncovered.

Well, it's true though, isn't it? We have the babies, the periods and the mounting pressure of having the most on point eyebrows. Apologies beforehand if you are easily squeamish. You have been warned!

So, firstly I will begin with how important it is to get these checks. In all honesty, I am just as guilty as the rest of you for putting them on the bottom of my to do list and making it my lowest priority. My highest being to order a Primer I have been wanting for ages. It's completely wrong of me and I vow never to do it again. Both times I have had my checks late, and my latest was a year overdue! So, as of now that is going to change. I completely understand life gets in the way, but what I learnt this time around is that some GP surgeries now offer 'Well Women' clinics which run a little bit later, therefore making them slightly easier to attend and to even get an appointment!

Firstly the screening is not a test for cancer, but more a check for abnormal cells which can develop into cancer. And since the screening programme was introduced in the 1980s, the number of cervical cancer cases has decreased by about 7% each year, which is pretty good going! They also now check for a virus called HPV. Now, they didn't do this when I had my first one, so obviously I had a few questions! Lucky for me, the nurse was very obliging and answered all of them.

HPV, I was told affects 3 quarters of women, which is a lot! So, you aren't completely alone if you have it. There is also a 100 different types of HPV, 40 of which infect the genital area. Now, I don't want to go into too much detail about it, as more information can be found at the link towards the end of this post, but simply there is low risk HPV and high risk HPV. In women, persistent infection with certain "high-risk" types of HPV can cause changes to cells in the cervix, which can increase the risk of cervical cancer. Either way, there are ways and means of treating and monitoring both.

The screening frequency is completely dependant on age, unless abnormal cells are found. In which case it might be a little bit more frequent. As it stands, they are:

Aged 25 to 49  Every three years.
Aged 50 to 64  Every five years.
Over 65  Only women who haven't been screened since age 50 or those who have recently had abnormal tests.

However, if you are worried about ANYTHING down there, regardless of age, go see your doctor before then.

If possible, try to book an appointment during the middle of your menstrual cycle (usually 14 days from the start of your last period), as this can ensure a better sample of cells is taken. Also, if you use a spermicide, a barrier method of contraception or a lubricant jelly, you shouldn't use these for 24 hours before the test, as the chemicals they contain may affect the test.

Anyway, now that some of the background information is out the way I can impart some of my advice, tips and tricks.

Give yourself a little pamper the night before. This might sound strange, but I definitely felt more confident going in 'looking my best'. My appointment was after work, so I snuck a packet of Femfresh wipes into my bag too, just incase.

Try not to worry too much. I definitely need to take this advice. If you aren't worrying about the actual screening, you are worrying about the results. The worst thing you can do is tense and tighten up during the exam. But just try and relax, deep breaths, and afterwards do things that make you happy. My remedy is shopping, which surprisingly, I am doing tomorrow! The nurse I had was lovely though, and she put me at ease. She answered any questions I had and explained what she was doing, and when during the whole procedure.

If you are embarrassed about stripping down from the waist, wear a loose skirt! I wish I had had this idea beforehand, but remember you are also given a substantial amount of tissue paper to cover up with. My nurse locked the door and drew a curtain around which made me feel doubly secure. What you have to always bare in mind is that the nurse doing the check has done a million of these. What you are showing them, probably isn't something new!

I'm not going to pretend, it is uncomfortable. All the lubrication in the world isn't going to help with that though. After all, they are widening the walls of your vagina so they can see your cervix! My first check I felt a sharp scratch as the sample was taken but at my 2nd I didn't feel a thing. I think it just depends on your sensitivity and the overall gentleness of the person doing it. And FYI the instrument in which they use is called a speculum which is made out of plastic and is not very pretty. Although, if it did sport a lovely floral design (I am thinking Cath Kidston here) I doubt it would make the experience any pleasanter!

Afterwards, your sample is sent off to a laboratory and I was informed it would take about 2 weeks to get the results. This is always in writing, and if you haven't heard anything, don't assume that no news is good news. Ring up your GP surgery and chase it up!

And finally, take some time. You might be feeling a bit peculiar after it all. Suffice to say I came home, ate a whole pizza and packet of Maltesers and went to bed to watch Disney Vlogs on YouTube. But that's OK! It can be quite draining, but two days on and I'm fine.

And finally finally one last thing to remember is that; 5 minutes of red cheeks every 3 years is definitely worth it for the peace of mind.

P.S. Some of the information used in this post was gleamed from the NHS Website. You should definitely check it out.