As I have yet to reach the age of 25, I hadn’t had any experience of a smear test. Yes as a sufferer of endometriosis I have had many gynaecological interventions- but not an actual smear, this was alien to me.
Through my previous placement at a GP surgery I saw cervical smear tests daily and to my surprise, they really weren’t a bad or negative experience. I have spoken to and know a lot of women who are terrified of attending for a cervical smear ‘it’ll be embarrassing’ ‘what if I see the nurse in town…she’ll of seen my bits!!’ ‘it’ll be painful’ ‘I’m young I don’t need to worry about cancer’…the list of excuses goes on and on. When in truth it is estimated at least 2,000 cases of cervical cancer are prevented each year in the UK because of cervical screening.
There has been a reduction this year in women attending for cervical smears therefore I thought it was important to write about my experiences viewing cervical smears and the experiences women shared with me.
Around the age of 25 you will get a letter telling you it is time for you to have a cervical screening appointment with your practice nurse. From then on you will be invited every 3-5 years depending on local policy. It is important to book the appointment when you are not on your period as this makes it harder to get a clear sample of cells.
During your appointment
On my placement the Practice Nurses were given 20 minute appointments for smear tests, however the screening itself only takes around 5 minutes. The rest of the time is taken with the nurse explaining the procedure to you, asking if you have any questions and discussing these with you.
- When you are ready the nurse will give you, your own private space. This is usually behind a curtain and you will be asked to undress from the waist down (you can keep your socks on!)
- The nurse will ask you to lie on the examination bed and will have left a paper sheet to cover yourself with and protect your modesty! When you are ready the nurse will come behind the curtain.
- Your nurse will usually ask you to lay with your legs bent up, your ankles together and your knees apart. So that she can get the best view of your cervix.
- When you’re ready and with your consent the nurse will gently enter a new speculum into your vagina- this is a plastic cylinder with a round end however some nurses still use metal speculums- this is a matter of personal preference and will not affect the result. This, some women can find uncomfortable and embarrassing- there is no need to be! Trust me…the amount of smears that Practice nurses do in a day…they will not remember your vagina! Nor do we mind if your ‘lady garden’ has been trimmed! (Side note, everyone ‘grooms’ differently and we are not judging you!)
- Once the speculum is inserted, the nurse will gently open it so they can see your cervix. This women has described to be as slight pressure…almost like you need to wee!
- The nurse will then use a small instrument, like a soft brush to take a sample of cells from the cervix’s ‘OS’ the only way I can describe this is like a donut…the OS is the ring in the middle! (sometimes Nurses call this a ‘scrape’-although that should not be how it feels!). See picture below of speculum and brush.
- If at any point during this procedure you feel uncomfortable or would like the nurse to stop then just ask! It is your body and you are in control.
- The sample cells will then be put into a small plastic vial of liquid, the liquid helps to preserve the cells. To make sure the cells are transferred from the brush to the vial the nurse will tap the brush several times into the vial.
- That’s the smear test done…as quick as that! The nurse will remove the speculum and give you your privacy to redress.
- Before you leave, the nurse will again ask if you have any questions. Some women have a very light bleed after the test-this is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about! The nurse will also explain how and when you should get your results (usually through the post).
I observed what must have been 100 cervical smears on my 8 week GP placement and got the opportunity to ask the women what the test is actually like. Those who were having their first smear test would say things like ‘oh was that it?’, ‘I thought that was going to be so much worse!’, ‘I don’t know what I was worried about’ and women who had, had several really did not have any issues with the smear tests again.
I hope this blog will help you realise that cervical smears are not a scary or painful experience…they are most definitely worth booking and attending. It could save your life!
I got lots of helpful info from jostrust.org.uk which is an amazing website all about cervical smears and cervical cancer, definitely worth taking a look!
By Cassie a 3rd year student nurse (@CassieSNGPN), originally published on her own blog https://journeytopracticenursing-stn.home.blog/2018/12/11/what-happens-during-a-cervical-smear-test-its-not-that-bad/