Ever wondered what not to do at a smear test? Me too.
I’m a big believer in the old cervical smear test.
Not as in: “I believe they exist, unlike unicorns and friendly sales assistants in WH Smith, both of which are clearly mythical creatures.”
More as in: “Smear tests are a good and important thing.”
Which is why I was only
18 a few months late in having my most recent appointment with the nurse for my scheduled test.
Lots of women worry that a smear test is embarrassing or inconvenient. But hopefully this post will reassure you and set your fears to rest.
Not as in: “Pap smears are not embarrassing or inconvenient.”
More as in: “Your smear test will never be quite as embarrassing and inconvenient as my smear test.”
Based on my experience, I present to you:
My top five tips to make your cervical smear test less awkward:
- If you have to reschedule your smear test appointment because it falls during your period, then you should make a note of the date, and ensure your next appointment is roughly mid-cycle. Apparently this is the best time to have a smear test. Don’t ring up the receptionist, let her re-book the appointment and fail to really pay attention to the date of your new appointment. Basically, don’t have a smear test when you’re on your period.
- After you actually have your smear test, you may experience what the NHS website refers to as “light spotting”. This is entirely normal, and if it happens to you, don’t panic and start Googling “symptoms of cervical cancer“. You probably especially want to avoid Googling “UK survival rates for cervical cancer”. I know from experience this ends in a bad, bad place. Some light spotting after a smear test is TOTALLY normal.
- If the spotting is quite heavy, and continues for more than three days, then you should go to see your GP, who will examine you to ensure your cervix looks healthy and nothing has been inadvertently severed, slashed or otherwise damaged during your smear test. It’s possible that while the GP examines you, they will ask for the date of your last period. It’s also possible you might realise, as the GP shines a torch at your cervix, that your last period was about 30 days ago. In this case you should probably not admit that you spent the weekend convinced you were dying, when in fact you were having your period. Just like the ones you’ve had pretty much every month for 30 years. That would be awkward. I mean, I imagine it would be. Hypothetically speaking. (What?? I have a busy schedule, I can’t be expected to remember EVERYTHING.)
- On the off-chance you had to take your child to the GP appointment with you, and they catch snippets of the conversation you had with the doctor from the other side of the curtain, you should absolutely not exit the GP surgery through a waiting room crowded with pensioners on the off-chance that the aforementioned small child asks, in her best LOUD voice, “Mummy, why were you bludgeoned in the vagina?” Don’t take your kids to your smear test, friends. The only upside of this is that no doctor/nurse will EVER be surprised by anything you say or do at a smear test.
- If your child has just outed you as the victim of a possibly the most alarming injury EVER in front of 50 pensioners, don’t hurriedly and quietly try and explain the concept of menstruation while you wait for a receptionist to print off a prescription, because the small child’s horrified scream of, “OH MY GOODNESS, I DID NOT NEED TO KNOW THAT!” will only make matters worse.
Yep. That’s me. Humiliating myself daily so you don’t have to.
You’re welcome. Meanwhile, if you want to know what a sensible woman (not me) does at a smear test, let’s chat about that, shall we?
What to Expect at a Smear Test
The good news is that having a smear test is actually pretty straightforward. If you’re nervous, the very best thing you can do is tell the nurse you’re nervous.
They will be as gentle as possible and make the whole experience as easy as they can. If you experience pain (most women don’t but it can happen, for various reasons) then mention this RIGHT AWAY because there are alternative instruments that can be used.
Step by Step Guide:
- You’ll arrive for your appointment and the nurse will invite you to lie down on the examination table, on top of some tissue paper.
- You’ll be asked to undress from the waist down, and I recommend wearing a long sweater if you feel at all self-conscious. That said I’ve never worried about anything on this score, assuming that nurses have seen all forms of lower bodies possible and have zero interest in whether I’m bald or have a small forest growing down there.
- If you’re feeling tense or nervous NOW is the time to mention it to the nurse, so they know to take things a little more slowly and gently. There are things nurses can do to help women who are worried about pain, so don’t be afraid to mention it. It’s in everyone’s interests for this to go as smoothly as possible.
- The nurse will ask you to bring up your knees towards your bottom, and then let them ‘fall apart’. It’s a fairly natural position, but allows them access to your cervix very easily. The nurse will then insert a speculum. The speculum doesn’t hurt but will allow the nurse to “open” up the vagina, and they will then use a swab to scrape some cells from your cervix.
- Most women won’t feel any pain, only a mild discomfort for a moment or two. That said, if it does hurt PLEASE tell the nurse so they can adjust their technique.
- And that’s it. The nurse will give you some tissue to wipe yourself off – if the nurse has used a lubricating gel, you’ll want to wipe it away, and it’s not unusual for your own body to produce some fluid in response to being probed. Get dressed, and you’re all finished! You’ll probably be in and out of the office in less than five minutes.
If you want to know more about what to expect from a smear test check out this page from Jo’s Trust.