Tips and Advice on your First Cervical Screening Test
There is no reminder that you are turning 25 in six months’ time quite like the arrival of the invitation to have your Cervical Screening Test.
It may feel daunting but 94 out of 100 women will have a normal result. What’s more, the smear test saves as many as 5,000 lives from cervical cancer each year in the UK*.
It’s really worth going, even if only to “get it over and done with”. Here are some tips and advice on your first cervical screening test from someone who did it a few weeks ago!
What to wear?
In the pamphlet you get with your letter, “NHS cervical screening – helping you decide”, they recommend wearing a loose fitting skirt or a dress. This may make it quicker and easier to get changed but equally if you feel more comfortable in your jeans you can still wear those too.
I actually think it doesn’t really matter what you wear as you will be behind a curtain and if you are wearing trousers the nurse or doctor will get you to strip from the waist down. You then sit on the bed and have some paper to cover your bare half with. Once you’re ready you can just let the nurse know you are ‘in position’ and she will come in. My nurse was lovely and chatty so luckily no awkward silences which actually helped there be a relaxed atmosphere.
(Note: I say it doesn’t really matter what you wear… but if you wear a playsuit, prepare to take the whole thing off. Remember those nights out when you and your friend are in the teeny girls loos trying to take the whole playsuit off just to have a wee? Well same scenario, but this time you’re not drunk and you are in a nurse’s office…)
The cervical screening test is available to all women on the NHS from the age of 25. From then until you are 49 you will be invited every 3 years to go and women aged 50 to 64 will be invited every 5 years. Most cervical cancers happen in women aged 25 to 64.
Booking the appointment
Most tests will be performed by a female nurse or doctor. You can always check and specifically ask for a female if you would prefer. This is a common request that you can make when you are booking the appointment.
When to book?
It’s not always easy to know when aunt Flo is coming to town but try and a book the test when you are off your period. Before or after is fine. There are some great apps out there that can help you keep track of when you are next due.
Also, you can book your test as soon as you receive your letter. One of my friends thought she’d sneaked past the system by getting an appointment before she was 25, only for the nurse to say well done for coming early! The nurse told her that despite saving 5,000 lives a year, there are still lots of no shows.
It used to be called a smear test
Slap on the wrist for me as I’ve definitely referred to it as a smear test within this blog, I’m not too sure why but the test used to be called the “smear test”, whereas it’s now known as the “cervical screening” test.
That being said, when I called the receptionist she referred to it as a smear, so just be aware that they are the same thing.
Before the test
2 days before you go, the NHS recommends that you do not use any vaginal medications, moisturisers, creams or lubricants. These things can affect the results of the test and therefore you may have to do the test again.
You may feel nervous!
I tried not to but I was definitely nervous before the test. I went on my own but it was definitely reassuring speaking to friends who had already done it. Speak to someone you know who has already been through it, whether it be an older friend or your mum. They will reassure you that it’s nothing to be concerned about.
On the day
The nurse may ask you some personal questions. Some questions include, what contraception you are using and if there are any chances you are pregnant. They will also ask if you have noticed anything abnormal for you. For example, bloating, spotting between periods or unusual discharge. These are all normal questions so do not feel embarrassed to answer. The nurse or doctor will have heard it all before. Being open and honest will help them understand your body better.
The second thing to be aware of is that the nurse will use a speculum (basically a plastic tube) to open up the cervix. It may feel uncomfortable but it should not be painful so if you notice any pain let the nurse or doctor know straight away. Our final suggestion, in tips and advice on your first cervical screening test is to try and relax as much as possible. If you tense up it can make the speculum more uncomfortable.
It will all be over in less than a minute and then it’s done!
You will receive a letter in the post between 2 weeks to 6 weeks in busier periods.
Reference: NHS cervical screening – Helping you decide pamphlet that comes with your first letter