Find out what happens in a smear test and why it’s so important to have it done.
A smear test might sound super scary but we’re here to reassure you. Also known as cervical screening, it’s a simple and painless test to check the health of your cervix. It only takes a few minutes and can be a lifesaver when it comes to preventing cancer. There are a lot of questions about smear tests and they are all really important to ask and find out more. Smear tests are a very important part of personal health and shouldn’t be something to worry about or be afraid of and you can rest assured some of the things you will have heard are not true.
Who Needs or Gets A Smear Test?
Everyone with a cervix who is aged 25-64 will be offered a smear test every three years. You will be sent a letter to remind you to make an appointment but if you think you’re due a check-up and haven’t had a letter, don’t hesitate to give your doctor a call.
What Can It Test For?
Generally, the smear test simply checks the health of your cervix. The also smear test looks for certain types of abnormal cells called HPV (human papillomavirus). Finding these abnormal cells early can stop the cells from becoming cancerous. It is not a test for cancer, but it can find abnormal cells that may, in time, lead to cancer. A positive result for abnormal cells does NOT mean you have cancer; it is very common.
What Happens in a Smear Test?
You’ll be asked to remove your underwear and lie down on the bed with your knees together. The nurse or doctor will make sure you’re comfortable before asking you to draw your heels together and up towards your bottom, then to relax your knees and let your legs fall apart. A speculum, which is a smooth clear instrument, is then inserted inside your vagina to make it easier to see the cervix. This can feel as if it’s ‘stretching’ your vagina, but it shouldn’t be painful. Sometimes, lubricant is applied to the speculum to make the insertion smoother. A small spatula or brush is then used to collect a sample from the cervix. Once collected, the nurse or doctor then removes the speculum. You’ll then be given privacy to clean yourself up and get dressed. It only takes around five minutes for the whole process.
Does a Smear Test Hurt?
It shouldn’t be. It may feel uncomfortable, strange or unsettling when the speculum is inserted, especially if this is your first smear test or you’re feeling particularly tense, but it shouldn’t be painful. Try to breathe and relax as much as you can.
You may feel a little crampy after your smear, almost as if your period is starting. You may bleed a little, too, so it’s a good idea to have towels or panty liners on standby, just in case. This is also normal so there’s no need to worry.
Is A Smear Test Embarrassing?
It’s normal to feel embarrassed about someone looking at your vagina. There are lots of things that can help you feel more relaxed and comfortable. The doctor or nurse who will carry out the test is usually female – you can request a female health professional when you make your appointment if you’d prefer. During the appointment, don’t be afraid to say if you feel uncomfortable, nervous or anxious – they will do everything they can to reassure you and make you comfortable. It can also help to remember that they have seen hundreds of vaginas and that carrying out a smear test is just a regular part of their day.
What Do You Do or Avoid Before a Smear Test?
Try to avoid sexual activity as it can remove the cells the smear is looking for. Timing your appointment so you are not on your period is also advisable. You might also be worried about not being shaved or groomed ‘down below’. Don’t be. We’re all different. Remember, your doctor or nurse has honestly seen it all. No-one will be judging you on how well-groomed (or not) your vagina is, we promise.
We hope this advice has helped to put your mind at ease. If you’d like more information on sexual health and getting yourself tested, click here.