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Nervous About A Smear Test? Here's What Actually Happens At Your Appointment

A recently-launched petition calling for the cervical cancer screening age to be lowered to 18 is set to be debated in government, after passing the 100,000 signature threshold.

But as young women, so many of us dread the pivotal moment that we get that letter through the door inviting us to attend our very first smear test.

At the moment, women in the UK can start attending cervical screenings from the age of 25 to 64 every three years, although some might get a letter through the post six months before their 25th birthday.

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Despite how life-saving smear tests are, thousands don't attend their screenings and 854 women died from cervical cancer in 2016 in the UK.

Lots of us put off attending our tests because of what we've heard, but is it really that bad and how much truth is there in the things we've heard about them? We decided to find just much how truth is in the myths surrounding the smear test to encourage as many women as possible to attend.

Credit: Shannon Bulmer
Credit: Shannon Bulmer

MYTH: IT'S EMBARASSING

Women worry about what the nurse will think about their shaving habits and some are embarrassed about the appearance of their labia.

Unfortunately, one-in-four women don't attend their smear test, with many believing the whole experience will be awkward and embarrassing.

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A study by Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust found that 34 per cent of women surveyed were too embarrassed to attend their smear test because of the shape of their vulva, while 31 per cent would avoid attending if they hadn't waxed or shaved their bikini area. And 38 per cent admitted not attending because of concerns over their vagina's smell.

TRUTH

While it's not unusual to feel embarrassed about baring all, nurses and medical professionals have seen vaginas of all shapes and sizes, from Hollywood waxed to full on bush and everything in between. To be perfectly honest, they're not interested in looking at your bits - they just have a job to do.

PRETTY52 spoke to a nurse, who has chosen to remain anonymous for her patients' privacy, who explained that women have no reason to feel embarrassed about attending a smear test.

She said: "If a lady is embarrassed, I usually tell her that I do many smears and can honestly say that I don't notice whether they have shaved, put clean underwear or socks on or even washed! It is really the last thing on my mind."

Kate Fanga from Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust added: "It's perfectly normal to be embarrassed by a smear test but try not to let that stand in your way because nurses are professionals and they've done hundreds and thousands of smear tests - they've seen it all before and what they're more concerned about is doing the best job they possibly can.

"They don't care if you've waxed, if you've shaved or are wearing matching socks, they just want to do the best they can."

MYTH: IT'S PAINFUL

A lot of women are put off going for their smear over fears that the process will be extremely painful.

It has to be said that some women do find the process uncomfortable BUT there are always ways to combat this if you talk to your nurse about how you're feeling.

TRUTH

The nurse told us: "I always explain to my patients that it is important to try and relax, particularly the pelvic floor muscles and give them time to do this.

"I always say that they can stop the procedure at any time. If they really can't tolerate the speculum - we can even try a very small size - we can prescribe a small dose of diazepam, a muscle relaxant, which they can take two hours before their appointment and we re-book for another day. "

However, the majority of women are surprised by how quick and easy the whole process is, after hearing horror stories about the procedure on the internet.

Kate explained: "The majority of women don't find it painful and it's often the fear of pain that actually stops people from booking the test. People often tell us, 'I thought it was going to be really painful, and then it wasn't' so don't let it put you off but do speak to your nurse, especially if you've got a health condition which you think might make it more painful and more uncomfortable."


MYTH: IT'S FRIGHTENING

There's a common misconception among some women who think that after their smear test they will either be given the all clear, or told they have cervical cancer.

It's understandable that people are put off attending over fear of the C-word.

TRUTH

A smear test isn't a test for cancer - it's to check the health of the cells in the cervix.

While the majority of women's tests will come back as normal, an abnormal result does not mean that a person has cancer, and can be down to a number of different reasons.

Many of these abnormalities will go back to normal by themselves, however a small few do pose a risk and will be removed to prevent them from turning cancerous.

Kate explained: "Smear tests are a test to prevent cancer, not to detect cancer and so going to your test is the best way to protect against the disease and the majority of those test results come back as normal.

"Those that don't have a normal result often means that abnormal cells have been detected in their cervix and about 200,000 people get told they've got abnormal cells each year which might require treatment and again that's a test to prevent cancer by removing those cells before they get chance to develop into the disease itself."

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While the majority of tests come back clear, 3,216 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK each year - 99.8 per cent of which are preventable with early smear tests, so go and get yourself checked.

It's really not that bad.

Featured Image Credit: Instagram/Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust

Topics: Life, Real, Sex & Relationships, Cervical Cancer, Health

Emma Rosemurgey

Emma Rosemurgey is an NCTJ trained Junior Journalist at PRETTY52. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and started her career in regional newspapers before joining the team in 2017. Contact her on emma.rosemurgey@pretty52.com

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