A smear test, also referred to as cervical screening, isn’t something you need to be worried about. The aim of it is to simply pick up any abnormal changes in the cells or in your cervix that have the possibility to develop into cervical cancer in the future. The point of having the cervical screening is to then get treatment to stop this happening (if you need it). It really is as simple as that. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, but, in order for this to be the case, women need to attend their screenings. It is estimated that screening has saved up to 5,000 lives a year.

Moreover, it’s been a decade since the reality TV star Jade Goody passed away from cervical cancer at the age of 27, after which the number of women having smear tests increased by a third. A third of the women surveyed by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust says that anxiety surrounding general body image and the appearance of their vagina puts them off getting a test.This statistic is staggering when you consider that cervical cancer is most common in women under 35 and these screenings can prevent 75% of cervical cancers from evolving.

To quote any healthcare professional, it’s nothing any doctor or nurse hasn’t seen before. They’ve trained for years in order to examine your cervix and they certainly don’t care whether you’ve had a wax or what your vagina looks like. They simply want to help you prevent any abnormalities developing in your cervix.

It’s important to remember that a smear test is for women who don’t have any symptoms of cervical cancer. If you have any symptoms you’re worried about, like unusual bleeding, for example, between periods or after sex, or discharge or pain, see your GP. Don’t wait for your routine smear test.

With all this in mind, if you know what to expect in regards to your cervical screening, the chances are you’ll feel much more relaxed about it – after all, there really is nothing to worry about; the test will be over and done with before you know it. We’ve also accumulated a few tips and pointers you or your nurse can implement to make the screening a little bit more comfortable and relaxed for you. Read on to find out more.

What happens during cervical screening?

If you feel worried about going for cervical screening, you are not alone. Knowing as much as possible about exactly what happens during a cervical screening may help you and make you feel at ease before your appointment. .

If you are registered with a GP, you will get a letter telling you it is time for your cervical screening appointment.

You have to call your GP to book an appointment. If you don’t want to go to the GP, the sexual health clinics in your local area will offer cervical screenings as will private GP services.

If you get frequent periods, try not to book an appointment when you are menstruating as it can make it a little more tricky to get a clear sample of cells, but it shouldn’t stop you from attending. You should also not use any form of lubrication prior to your screening as this can also affect the results of your screening. The most important thing is booking an appointment at a time that works for you.

During your appointment

Your entire visit to the GP surgery should not take longer than about 15 minutes, with the test itself lasting around three minutes.

Your nurse will invite you into a treatment room. They will explain what cervical screening is and ask you if you have any questions, and put you at ease.

Your nurse will then give you a private area, usually behind a curtain, and ask you to take off your clothing from the waist down. If you are wearing a dress or skirt, you can leave this on and just remove your underwear, many people prefer to do this as it can feel a little bit less daunting and more comfortable when having the examination.

Your nurse will then ask you to lie on an examination bed on your back with:

  • Your legs bent up – relaxed on the edge of the bed.

  • Usually with your ankles together and your knees apart.

Some examination beds will have stirrups attached to them. If yours does, you should place your feet in the stirrups. If this feels uncomfortable, you can ask to lie on your left side with your knees bent (left lateral position).

You then receive a paper sheet to cover the lower half of your body. Your nurse will let you know when the test is about to start. First, they will slowly put a new, clean speculum into your vagina. A speculum is usually a plastic cylinder with a rounded end. The speculum is typically the part that people find uncomfortable.

When the speculum is inside your vagina, the nurse gently opens it so they can see your cervix.

Then the nurse will use a small brush to take a sample of cells from your cervix – this is a very quick process. It might feel a bit strange, but it will not be painful. If you are in extreme discomfort, certainly let the nurse know.

After the screening

Most people carry on with their day as usual after their appointment. You may have some very light bleeding also known as spotting for a day or so after the test, so it can help to wear a sanitary pad afterwards.

Cervical screening should not feel painful, but it might be a bit uncomfortable. If you have any severe pain or other problems, it is important to let your doctor or nurse know.

Ways to make your cervical screening more comfortable

Ask for a nurse or doctor of a particular gender

More aptly, a female nurse. If you have a nurse or doctor you trust, check with your GP surgery if they are able to carry out the test for you.

Book a longer or double appointment

If you think you may need more time during or after your screening, check if your GP surgery offers this. Be prepared for your GP surgery’s receptionist to ask why you may require a longer appointment and remember that you do not have to disclose anything you don’t wish to.

Take someone you trust with you

It could be a trusted friend, family member, partner or somebody else. They can be in the waiting room or examination room with you to offer support or hold your hand. They may also be able to speak on your behalf about any worries if you wish.

Talk to your nurse or doctor

If it is your first ever cervical screening, you feel embarrassed or worried, you have had a negative experience before or you have experienced anything that makes the test particularly stressful or upsetting for you, informing the person doing the test means they can try to give you the necessary support. If you don’t feel comfortable verbalising something, try writing it down or having a trusted person with you speaking on your behalf.

If you feel comfortable doing so, wear a skirt or dress

As previously mentioned, you can keep this on during the test, which may help you feel a little more covered-up. You will get a paper sheet to cover yourself, but check if you can bring a spare towel or blanket too if this makes you feel more at ease.

Ask for a smaller speculum

Speculums do come in a variety of sizes, so if you find the standard size too uncomfortable, you can ask to try a different size.

Ask to lie in a different position

Lying on your back may feel uncomfortable for various reasons. You can ask to lie on your left hand side with your knees bent (left lateral position).

If you have gone through or are going through the menopause, inform your doctor or nurse know

As we age, the opening of the vagina and vaginal walls become smaller and less flexible, which can make the test a little more uncomfortable. You can request your nurse to prescribe you a vaginal oestrogen cream or pessary, which can soothe this area.

Duality Health – private healthcare in Newry and Dungannon we provide private smear tests

Cervical smears are very important but can be a very daunting experience, particularly if it’s your first time or you’re anxious about your results. At Duality Health, we provide private smear tests and provide a comfortable and relaxed environment as we understand how sensitive this process can be. Our family planning clinic and team of professionals are on-hand seven days a week and are always around to answer any queries. Our private smear test is affordable, especially considering the benefits of fast results and rapid treatment and follow up care if required. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch to find out more.