Get Your Smear Test! Why Early Diagnosis is so Important

Are you over 25, and haven’t had your smear test yet? The clock is ticking, so discover everything you need to know about them, right here…

A smear test, also known as cervical screening, is a test that helps prevent cervical cancer in women. Cancer is much easier to treat the earlier you catch it, and smear tests are designed to catch cancer at an early stage and prevent its development.

The first step for women is getting in there and booking their smear test to prevent late diagnosis. Even then, once you’ve already received a positive smear test, the cancer may also spread because the NHS has taken too long to give you treatment. This is where educating ourselves on the ins and outs of it all is vital.

If you find yourself in a situation where the cancer has gotten worse after receiving a positive test, you can claim compensation for a delay in your medical treatment. However, we all want to avoid this at all costs, and this prevention begins by talking you through what happens at a cervical screening, to put your mind at ease. So, for everything you need to know about your smear test – the what, the why, the how, and the when – you came to the right place…

What is the Purpose of a Smear Test?

As we mentioned before, a smear test is not a test for cancer; it’s a test to help prevent cancer. The smear test is designed to find a type of human papillomavirus (HPV) in the cervix, which can cause abnormal changes in the cells. The cells themselves are then checked to see if they have any abnormal changes that may turn into cervical cancer.

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV, which can be contracted through any type of genital-to-genital contact, or through oral sex. In most cases, your body will get rid of HPV without it causing any harm, but sometimes the virus can stay in your body and become ‘high risk’.

The big issue with HPV is that it has no known symptoms, and it causes almost all cases of cervical cancer. With this in mind, the importance of getting a smear test is clear.

What Happens in a Smear Test?

So, now we have an idea of what a smear test is and why it’s important, what actually happens when you go in for your cervical screening? This is often the biggest preventative of women heading to their first screening. The fear of the unknown is enough to make anyone avoid it, so this should put your mind at ease…

It’s actually one of the quickest appointments you can have, as it only lasts around 10 minutes, with only 1 to 2 minutes for the smear test itself. Usually the screening is performed by a female nurse or doctor, but you can always ask when you book the appointment if you want to make sure.

The practitioner will have you undress from the waist down and lie on your back with your knees bent and apart. It’s a good idea to relax at this point, as there is absolutely nothing to worry about. It’s a standard test that medical professionals perform all the time, so any embarrassment is completely unfounded.

Your nurse will use a smear test tool called a speculum to gently open your vagina, so they can see your cervix. They then use a small brush to take a sample of cells, and voila, the test is over! Now all the nurse needs to do is send the cells off to be tested.

Does a Smear Test Hurt?

A common question people ask is ‘does a smear test hurt’? Some people find the test uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t actually hurt. If it does hurt all you have to do is tell your nurse and she’ll be able to make you more comfortable.

How Can I Prepare for my Smear Test?

You might also want to know what to do before a smear test. It’s a good idea to wear something you can leave on during the test like a long jumper or a skirt. You can also bring someone along with you for support, or bring something to listen to or read during the test if you’re going it alone. 

If you’re still nervous about the test, there’s some good advice in this BBC article on how to make the whole process more comfortable.

How Do I Book Myself in For a Smear Test?

If you’re living in the UK, you should be sent a smear test invitation letter in the post when it’s time to book an appointment. The letter tells you where you can go to get a screening and how to book it.

All women between the ages of 25 and 64 should get a letter from the NHS up to six months before turning 25, every three years up until the age of 49, and every five years after that. You will only receive a letter beyond the age of 64 if any of your last 3 tests were abnormal.

If you want to get a screening outside of these letter invites, because you are bleeding between periods or after having sex, then call your GP practice and book an appointment straight away. Also, if you missed your last smear test, you don’t have to wait for a letter, so book yourself in as soon as you can.

The best time to book an appointment is when you’re not on your period, and it’s better to do it at least two days before or after just to be safe.

How Do I Get My Smear Test Results and What Do They Mean?

You should get your smear test results by letter, or you might be called in by your GP to discuss them in person. If you’ve waited a long time to get them back, call your GP and ask if they’re ready yet.

You won’t receive a letter full of facts and figures; you will simply be told what your smear test results are and what they mean. You might even be called back for another screening in three months, but this is just because the results were unclear, not that anything is wrong with you.

If the results say there is no HPV in your cell sample, then you will just attend your screening as normal in 3 or 5 years. If HPV is found in your system but there are no abnormal cells, you’ll be asked to have another smear test in a year’s time. If you have both HPV and abnormal cells, you’ll have to undergo another test called a colposcopy.

A colposcopy is similar to a smear test, except it’s done in a hospital. Try not to worry if you are put forward for this test. As long as it happens soon, there shouldn’t be any more changes to your cells in that time.

Why an Early Diagnosis is Crucial and Could Save Your Life

I think it’s important that we round off this post with some emphasis on why getting a smear test is a good idea, and could potentially save your life. After all, so many women procrastinate this much-needed test, which can be detrimental to them.

In its early stages, cervical cancer often has no symptoms, so it’s unlikely to be caught before it becomes a problem. As mentioned previously, cervical cancer is primarily caused by HPV, which is a common virus that can be passed through sexual contact. A HPV infection also has no symptoms, so again, it’s unlikely you’d be aware of it before it’s too late.

The HPV vaccine has been offered to girls aged 12 and 13 since 2008, and there’s a common misconception that, once you’ve had your HPV vaccine, you’re safe. However, even this vaccine cannot protect against all strains of the virus. 

If you get to the stage where you actually have cervical cancer, you’ll likely have to undergo surgery. In some cases, it’s possible to leave the womb in place but, in many, the womb itself has to be removed.

You might also have to undergo radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery all at the same time. Some of these treatments can have significant long-lasting effects, such as early menopause and infertility.

Sometimes, women with cervical cancer can develop complications, from vaginal bleeding and frequent urination, all the way to more life-threatening ones, such as severe bleeding and kidney failure. Without getting too into the weeds on the complications cervical cancer can cause, reading the full list on the NHS website should be more than enough to convince you that a smear test is the better option.

Let’s Get Our Smear Tests…

This has been a pretty heavy post, especially towards the end, but getting a smear test to avoid cervical cancer is a serious issue and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what a smear test is, why it’s important, what the actual test itself is like, and how to go about booking an appointment. With all these tools in your belt, there is no reason to be afraid of getting a cervical screening.

The fact that you get one every three years means you’ll be a pro once you’re past the age of 30. It’s just as easy as going to the doctors for any other appointment, except this one could potentially save your life.

If you have a smear test booked, I hope all goes well and you get all the help you need to keep any potential cervical cancer out of your life.

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