A year or two ago a fellow feminist friend blogged about her cervical check smear test (I can’t find the link at the mo but will link it when I find it!) and I thought it was a great way of demystifying the whole process for anyone who is a bit nervous about the idea of a medical professional poking about down there. So in the public interest, I shall share with you a step by step account of my first smear test. If it helps one more woman go and get checked then it’ll be worth it!
Firstly, you might be wondering what’s a cervix, what’s cervical cancer, what’s a smear test and what’s CervicalCheck?
- Your cervix (see diagram above) is the entrance to the womb/neck of the womb. Basically, the area where the top of the vagina leads to the uterus (womb).
- Cervical cancer is a cancer of the cells of the cervix (neck of the womb). Cervical cancer is the second most common female cancer in Europe. Cervical cells change slowly and take many years to develop into cancer cells, making cervical cancer a preventable disease.
- A smear test is a simple procedure that only takes minutes and is the most effective way to detect changes in the cells of the cervix.
- CervicalCheck – The National Cervical Screening Programme provides free smear tests to women aged 25 to 60.
So what did I do?
In order to get your free smear test from the Govt/HSE (take it while it’s going ladies!) you have to register on CervicalCheck.ie. When I registered the first time, it didn’t go through so I had to do it again. You get a letter in the post advising you to go to a registered smeartaker (the list is available on CervicalCheck.ie). If you don’t get a letter a week or two after your registered, register again/phone up.
Next you have to wait unless timing is perfect because ideally you should have the smear done between days 10 and 14 of your period. So if like me, you have irregular periods you might end up waiting twelve months for the right opportunity for your smear test. You will get reminder letters advising you to go for your smear test – don’t worry about these, there is no limit from when you register to when you can avail of the test.
Eventually (a year and a bit after I registered) I was able to get an appointment for a smear test with my local practice between days 10 and 14 of my cycle. What I learned was you have to specify you want the smear when you make the appt. I made a general check up appt but when I went in, the doc informed me I had to make a separate one for the smear test. This may change from practice to practice but better to say it than have to make another one. And you have to bring the letter with your unique id number with you.
So the actual test!
I arrived, checked in at reception and waited for the nurse to come get me. You can make an appt with a nurse or doctor so I was happy to have a nurse do it. Often I find they are better than doctors because they have more experience. And my nurse was lovely which really helps when you’re a bit nervous about a test!
So she brought me into the exam room, the first thing she said was that there is a paper form to be filled out. Very short one, for CervicalCheck asking for details like your name, address, date of birth. You also have to sign it to say you consent to the test. Then the nurse asked me some questions – had I had a smear test before, what day of my cycle was I on and had I had a pregnancy before.
She then asked if I was happy to start (ie didn’t want the bathroom) and that if I was she would lock the door while I took off my jeans and knickers. She asked me to lie up on the bed, and to drape one of those light paper towel things over my crotch. Not going to lie, you do feel quite exposed lying on a bed while a nurse is chatting to you about all sorts of everything and you’re naked from the waist down!
So previously getting other tests down,I’ve had the whole feet in stirrups with someone’s head between your legs. This time, she conducted the test from the side. This meant she asked me bend my knees and to put my heels together and then to let my legs fall apart so that basically my legs were in a diamond shape. As with all tests that involve something going inside your vagina, the more relaxed you are the less discomfort there is…. but that’s easier said than done!
Don’t be alarmed by this instrument – it’s a speculum. This is inserted into the vagina. (While everyone’s experience of these things is different, this is unlikely to be an uncomfortable feeling for anyone who’s had vaginal intercourse with a male partner.) There was then what felt like a small pinch and the nurse put in a swab and did a sweep of the cervix. Then the speculum came out and it was all over. The nurse then made sure she got enough cells for a proper result. Once she was happy she had enough, I was given some tissues to clean away gel that had been used on the speculum and was free to get dressed and leave.
So the results should arrive in the post in about 9 weeks, and if at that stage I don’t have them, I’m to ring the GP as they also get a copy. All in all it took less than twenty minutes. Not a major inconvenience by any stretch! Especially not when you consider the alternative – ~I’d much rather have a test done every three years (and a free one at that) than wake up one day to a diagnosis of cancer.
Here’s hoping that by baring the details of my first smear test, others venture forth and get tested too!