Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Taking off my big girl pants: Cervical screening

I haven't posted for a long time.  I've been busy with work and uni and general life stuff, but I think this is something worth posting about.

I had my first cervical screening today.

I'm going to tell you some general information about cervical screenings and then I'll talk about my experience.  If you're female and you think this is a bit too TMI, I would really advise that you read it anyway.  It's a part of life, and avoiding the topic will only build it up into a massive thing that you want to avoid.  Avoiding it is not in your best interests, so it's better to learn about it so that you can be prepared when you get your letter.

What is a cervical screening?
Previously known as a smear test, a cervical screening is a 'method of detecting abnormal cells on the cervix'.  Cervical screenings are not cancer tests.  It is to test the health of the cells around the cervix.  Yes, abnormalities could indicate different types of cancer, but that is just one thing they could pick up.  
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus.  It's about 2-3cm long in non-pregnant women, and bridges the gap between the womb and the vagina.

What's a cervix?

What is the test though?
The test itself is done by a nurse.  They have you lay on a bed with your feet facing each other and knees dropped to the side, then they insert a plastic speculum into your vagina.  Once that is in place, they use a plastic brush to collect cells from your cervix.

Who gets it done?
The test is offered to women just before their 25th birthday, and then is repeated every 3 years until age 50 when it is repeated every 5 years.

Why is it important?
Scientists and experts estimate that cervical screening saves around 5,000 lives each year in the UK.
Around 1 in 20 women (5%) have an abnormal result after a cervical screening test. It means that there are some changes to the cells on the cervix. These changes are not cancer. The cells often go back to normal by themselves. But in some women, if not treated, these changes could develop into cancer in the future. 
It is very rare for an abnormal result to show that a cancer has already developed, especially if you have been having regular screening. But this is possible.
Cervical screening can prevent at least:
45% of cervical cancers in women in their 30s
60% of cervical cancers in women in their 40s
75% of cervical cancers in women in their 50s and 60s

Since cervical screening started in the 1980s, rates of cervical cancer have almost halved.

More information on cervical screenings can be found at

My experience...

I got the letter a couple of months ago, informing me that I needed to schedule an appointment with a nurse.  I booked it for a few days later, and just as the appointment rolled around I promptly got my period and had to cancel.  Before then I wasn't too nervous, I just wanted to get it over with, but when I went to re-book the appointment I was told there was a 6 week wait.  

That 6 week wait gave me time to think about it, and build it up into this massive, scary ordeal.

Someone was going to be down there, with this huge speculum and a plastic brush and they were going to do things with both.  Dislike.

I spoke to a few people about their experiences, and they all said the same thing: They'd built it up and put it off and eventually they went and had it done and it was fine.  Even after hearing people tell me it was going to be fine, I still couldn't shake the anxiety as my appointment date approached.

So today rolled around, I woke up early, realised what day it was and quickly went back to sleep to avoid the next 3 hours of anxious waiting before my appointment time.

I got up, showered, shaved my legs, put on my big girl pants (and y'know, clothes) and then headed off to the doctors.  When I got there, the staff were all coming off their dinner break and having a chat behind the reception desk.  My brain automatically twisted everything they said into being about this cervical screening.  Rational.

The first thing I heard was "it's the girth that's the problem".  Instant association with the speculum! One of the nurses was telling the others about how she was building a she-shed.  I couldn't help but hear the word vagina every time she said anything about it.  My mind was melting.

My nurse called me into her room and told me I didn't need to look so terrified - obviously it was showing all over my face.  She talked me through what she was going to do and why she was doing it.  She was going to have me lay on the bed and then she would insert a plastic speculum into my vagina, which she showed me (the speculum not the vagina), then put a plastic brush type contraption up to my cervix, spin it around a bit to collect some cells and then put the cells into a little pot.

The pot will be sent to Oldham and it will be spun around so that the cells come to the top.  The cells will be put onto a slide and someone will look at the slide under a microscope to check the nuclei for any changes.

She also mentioned that, as my age group are the first to have had the HPV vaccine, they will be looking to see if that has had any effect on the number of people with abnormal cells.  It should be about 6 years until they know if the vaccine is working or not, which I found pretty interesting.

My results will be posted to me, and should anything come back abnormal, I will be asked to go to the hospital for a different type of check.

She stood up and started pulling a curtain around the bed, asked me to take my clothes off my bottom half and lay on the bed.  She had a strip of the blue paper roll for me to cover myself with and asked me to let her know when I was comfortable.

I wasn't ever going to be comfortable in that situation so I just did what she said and let her know when that was done.

She asked me to bend my knees up and drop my legs to the side.  Then she inserted the speculum, took her sample and said it was done.  It took about 5-10 seconds.

Why did I get myself into such a state over 5-10 seconds?
It didn't hurt, it was very slightly uncomfortable but not very, and she made the whole thing much less awkward than I thought it was going to be.

I got myself dressed, thanked her and left.

That was it.  Easy.  It's now 2 hours later and I have some mild twinges every now and then, but nothing requiring painkillers.  She said I may experience some spotting but I've had nothing so far.  It's all good.

If you're coming up to your 25th birthday, you've had your letter and you're building this up to be a massive thing, all I can say is relax.  The nurses do so many of these, it's nothing new to them, and if you tell them that it's your first one, they'll talk you through it and make you feel comfortable.

Don't worry.  It's fine, it's nothing.  At the very worst it's slightly embarrassing and maybe a tiny bit uncomfortable for a few seconds.  It isn't a big deal :)

Rach xo

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