The smear test and why you need to be 25

Oh the ‘dreaded’ smear test. Ladies, I’m telling you, the smear test really isn’t anything to worry about.

I don’t know how I ever got the thoughts of the smear test being some torturous procedure where they use a scalpel and scrape a piece of your flesh away because this is NOT what the smear test is. Not even close.

In the UK, once you hit 25 years of age you will be invited to your first cervical screening. This test is to detect pre-cancerous/cancerous cells and it goes without saying how important it is to attend these. (Not to mention…it’s free!)

A smear test sometimes gets a lot of bad press and is known to be painful. Whilst this may be the case for some women, it isn’t for all. Pain may be more common in women who suffer from chronic conditions such as endometriosis, or perhaps women with a more tilted cervix (we are all built differently). For a tilted cervix, putting your hands under your bum may help if you are finding it painful. You can also ask for a smaller sized speculum if you find the other sizes too large!

Does the smear test hurt?

No, well… mine didn’t. And most of my friends I speak to always say ‘It was literally nothing!’ which is very true. As I’ve mentioned above, it CAN hurt for some women, but the positive is that it takes about 2 to 3 minutes to complete. I felt some discomfort as the speculum keeps you ‘open’ whilst they take the swab, but it didn’t hurt at any point.

Is it embarrassing?

No! This is a difficult question to answer because everyone has different feelings. For me, it wasn’t. But then I’ve had so many gynae based appointments and people looking down there that I’m undressed before they even ask me now! You also have to think of it like this, nurses are doing this so many times a day. They have seen so many vaginas, of all shapes and sizes. You don’t need to be worried about what they are going to think, they are probably thinking ‘I hope their smear comes back clear’ if anything! You also do not need to worry about shaving, discharge etc. They will have seen it allllll. The nurses are always super friendly and put you at ease beforehand.

What does the test involve?

The test involves a plastic speculum, which is heavily lubricated and then inserted into the vagina. Like I said earlier, there are different sizes available. It looks like a beak, and once inside they prise it open just enough to keep the vaginal walls out of the way so that they can look see clearly up to the cervix and reach it easier. They then take a swab, using a long cotton bud with a different shaped tip from normal (it’s kind of like a triangle/wedge on the top) and with this, they just lightly brush the cervix and then remove the swab, put it in the jar, take out your speculum and you’re done!

What can I expect after?

You may experience cramping as your cervix is sensitive and it’s just been prodded with swabs. The cramping feels similar to period pain. You may also bleed as the cells around the cervix are very soft. If you have cervical ectropions present you are probably going to bleed more (this isn’t harmful). Again, it depends on the woman as to how much you would bleed. From memory I just had a little spotting!

Why do we have to wait until we are 25?

This angered me for ages. I didn’t understand why the age couldn’t be lowered. I got so panicked at one point because I was 24 and NEEDED a smear test. I had been tested for so many other things and everything was clear. I had very abnormal heavy watery discharge, and the only test I hadn’t had yet was the smear. Thankfully, because of the fact I had already eliminated every other test, I was allowed to have one done. The nurse explained why this is the case…..

Before 25, the cells in your cervix are always adapting and changing as you grow. If a swab was to be taken at this time, it could return with results as ‘abnormal’ when actually, it is just because you are going through very NORMAL changes. Having an abnormal result will send you into a panic. If it then progresses to getting minor or major surgery/procedures to remove the cells, you are then going through something that you didn’t actually need because the test isn’t clever enough at present to tell the difference between natural changes and unnatural ones.

Therefore, they wait until you are 25 as the body should have stopped changing by then. I personally think a lot more research needs to be done to look into another way to screen girls who are under 25, as several women do unfortunately get cervical cancer at very young ages.

Another reason why women’s health needs all the attention that it can get and so much more awareness and research.

If you are due a smear test, please go and book it in. You will be fine, and we are lucky that in the UK we get this service for free.

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