There really is nothing to worry about when it comes to smear tests, but having your questions answered tends to help.
A few bits of info to start you off
- The cervical smear test analyses cells from your cervix, which can show signs of developing into cervical cancer.
- To book a smear, go to your GP. You will probably be referred to a nurse or gynaecologist. Ask to be seen by a female if you're nervous. The booking should be made for about 2 weeks after your period.
- At your appointment, you will have to answer a few questions about your general state of health (like you would for a pill check). Nothing too personal, although I seem to remember being asked whether I was 'sexually active' (saying "not right this minute" will not get a laugh).
- The process itself involves the nurse opening your vagina with a speculum (which will have been warmed beforehand), and lightly scraping your cervix with a little brush. It can be a bit uncomfortable, and some women find it makes them feel a bit sick. It will only last a matter of about 10-20 seconds.
- Some recommend wearing a skirt to your appointment so you can hitch it up rather than getting semi-naked.
You'll get your results within 14 days. Most women are told that their test showed no abnormal cells. In other cases, you may have one of the following alternative results:
- You need a repeat test. This is probably because the original test didn't collect enough cells.
- The result is 'borderline'. This means there were a few abnormal cells, but not enough to worry about. You'll probably have to have another test in 6 months.
- Abnormal cells have been found. If there are more than a few, the next step is to have a colposcomy examination, which will show the cervix in more detail. This result DOESN'T mean you have cervical cancer. Out of 200,000 'abnormal' results every year, only 3,500 develop cervical cancer.
Will it hurt?
It can be painful, or it can be simply uncomfortable. The main thing most people are worried about is having their bits so exposed. You will probably be taken into a little changing cubicle or left to undress from the waist down, and given a towel to wrap around you. only at the point just before the smear will you be exposed. The more tense you are the more painful it is. its incredibly hard to force yourself to relax though, so just try to distract yourself as best you can, and follow any advice they give you.
How old do you have to be to have one?
The advice in the UK is that you need one at either 23 or 25 years old, then every 3-5 years after that. Different areas have different rules - some like in South London say 23 years old, some others say 25 years old. The reason they don't bother with women younger than this is because they get so many women testing positive beyond this age but who are not at risk of cervical cancer, due to normal changes that occur on the cervix, which look similar to abnormal changes.
I'm a virgin, do i need one?
YES, virgins can get cervical cancer, research carried out by the nhscsp showed that although it is far rarer in virgins as they are unlikely to catch HPV, they can still develop cervical cancer from abnormal changes in cells not caused by HPV. Ring your GP and ask for their advice on the matter. It is a very low risk, but there is a risk. If you have sex with a condom you still need a smear. Most people are rubbish with condoms, and there is a slight transmission risk anyway.
Can I be vaccinated against this?
There are two vaccines available. One protects against HPV16 and 18 - responsible for over 70% of cervical cancer in WHITE people (much less in black and Asian people). One protects against them plus two other sorts which cause over 90% of genital and anal warts. If you have had unprotected sex before there's not really much point in getting the first vaccine. That said, it won't do any harm. The latter vaccine however will help protect against warts - especially in at risk groups like gay men. Remember though there are lots and lots of HPV viruses NOT protected by the vaccines. You will still need smears when called up, and will still need to
More Help and Advice
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Or take a look at the official NHS website.
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