Smear Test Talk

Earlier this week I went for a smear test.

I suspect I’m not alone in dreading this test, from the moment I get the letter reminding me it’s been three years and it’s time to book right up until the moment of climbing on the table.  I know they’re important and a few moments of discomfort are worth it to check I’m healthy but equally it just isn’t the nicest ting and nobody ever really wants to put themselves into situations of discomfort.

Smear tests are used to monitor any abnormal changes early on allowing them to monitor and treat these changes early thus helping to prevent the chance of those changes turning into cervical cancer.  They take roughly ten minutes from entering the room to leaving (the actual test is a couple of minutes if that) and for most women it really is a matter of mild discomfort over any form of painful experience.  However in 2018 it was reported that one in four women don’t book an appointment when they get their reminder letter due to embarrassment, body shape shame or fear of the unknown / pain.  This figure increased to one in three in the 25-29 age range and one in two in some of the most deprived areas of the UK.

Much like periods, I feel like smears are something quite common, all women should have them, if you talk to other women most will admit to disliking them or having anxiety around some part of them but which we often feel silly talking about.

But for someone who writes about health and fitness on a weekly basis, I also feel like it’s important to stress that physical fitness or strength or a balanced diet or calorie deficit is all kind of pointless if you don’t take care of yourself at a more fundamental level.  I admit I stated thinking about his when I got my smear test reminder and as a result as well as booking the smear test also booked in a dental check up and an eye test (fyi I over much needed new glasses and twelve years between eye tests is by far too long!).

If you are nervous about getting our smear here’s some tips I’ve found useful for reducing the stress of the situation and making it more comfortable:

  • Wear a long skirt – reduces the amount of undressing you need to do and can make you feel less exposed.
  • You’ll almost always get a female nurse but if you don’t you can request one.  You can also take someone with you if that helps.
  • Tell the nurse you are nervous – they are used to doing his test and will generally be good at putting you at ease, keeping you talking and more relaxed.
  • Ask for a smaller speculum.  I had a horrible couple of smears when I was younger that really made me dread going, and I read this tip on the internet.  I asked the nurse and she explained that they don’t always work and sometime it can mean them trying then having to use a bigger one anyway.  But they will try if you ask and for me the smaller one worked without issue and now I always ask and it always works fine, to the point I barely feel anything.  If you are really nervous this is an option worth discussing with the nurse beforehand.

So three messages for this blog.

  1. Male or female – be more holistically health conscious in 2020.  Don’t just eat well or exercise but make an effort to look after your body in all ways.  That means things like health check ups, resting when injured and not making a training session a priority over other aspects of your overall health.
  2. Help make 2020 a year to reduce stigma – feel less pressure to avoid conversations on periods, health checks like smear tests, prostate checks, checking your breasts (not much experience here but equally important) because these conversations can help others.
  3. If you haven’t had a smear test and are of an age where you should book an appointment with you GP.