Cervical Screening Awareness Week Q&A: Dismantling The Fear of the Smear

Cervical screening rates are at their lowest in two decades, and while it is your choice whether to attend or opt-out of your smear test, we hope with the hub of information we provide, you can make the best decision for you and your health.

Dropping your underwear and clambering into stirrups is hardly the picture of elegance but a few minutes of embarrassment could be your best protection against cervical cancer.

Cervical screening rates are at their lowest in two decades, and while it is your choice whether to attend or opt-out of your smear test, we hope with the hub of information we provide, you can make the best decision for you and your health.

If you’re due a cervical screening test and you’re wondering whether to attend your appointment due to Covid-19, or you’re pondering all the most important questions like, should you take your shoes off and where do you put your pants? – then you’re in the right place.

We sat down with Nurse Jenny to get to the bottom of our burning questions! Here’s everything you need to know about cervical screening.

What is the latest advice for anyone who is due their smear test but is unsure whether to attend due to Covid-19?

Please attend your cervical screening appointment. The cervical screening programme in England is now sending out invitations and many GP surgeries are now opening their doors, but you will find that your appointment will seem a little different than before. Surgeries are putting safety measures into place, so please be reassured that it is for your best interest that we are being cautious. Find the latest information from Jo’s Trust here.

How old do you need to be to have a cervical screening test?

The screening programme is for anyone with a cervix from 24.5 years to 64 years

Why are smear tests important?

A cervical screen is important because it can pick up any abnormal cells before they develop into cervical cancer. If you have had HPV or cell changes, then it is even more important to have your cervical screen.

When is the best time to have a smear test?

If you are on any form of contraception, it really does not matter when you have your cervical screen, as long as you are not bleeding. However, if you are not using contraception, then the best time for a cervical screen is mid cycle, so 12-14 days after the first day of your period.

Check out Zoe’s video where Jenny talks Zoe through the process step-by-step so you know what to expect.

Will I need to undress to have the test?

You will need to take your trousers and underwear off for your cervical screen.

What are the best clothes to wear for comfort and ease?

A skirt is a good idea as then you can use this for a bit of modesty. We do provide a modesty paper sheet, to cover your tummy.

Does a smear test hurt?

It should not hurt, but for some people, it can be uncomfortable. Your health care professional should have a wide range of speculum, which are inserted into your vagina. If the size chosen is uncomfortable, your HCP can use a smaller size.

Is bleeding after a smear test normal?

Yes, bleeding is often very normal and should only last a short while. Sometimes, if you have been on the contraceptive pill for a long time, bleeding can occur. This is because the oestrogen hormone in the pill can make the cervix bleed easily. It is ok for this to happen, but may also mean you need to change your contraception.

How long does it take to receive results?

In most parts of the country the results are taking about 2 weeks.

What is HPV?

Human Papillomavirus or HPV is the cause of about 99% of cervical cancers. HPV is a virus which is transmitted through sexual contact. It is a common virus, as common as a cough or cold, and in the majority of people, our immune system clears it naturally.

What does it mean if your results say you have ‘abnormal cells’?

This means that a strain of the HPV has been found in some of the cervical cells, which have caused some changes in the nucleus of the cell. There are well over a hundred different strains of the HPV virus. If we do not treat these abnormal cells, then they can develop into cervical cancer after several years.

What is the most common reason for missing a smear test?

Scared of the results, anxiety. Anxiety of undressing in front of a stranger. What is going to happen, pain, time. There is a whole host of reasons.

What can we do to dismantle the fear?

We can try and build a rapport with people. Explain the procedure. Show the speculum and different sizes. Let them insert the speculum themselves. Explain a smear test only takes seconds to perform.

How often should you have a smear test?

Every 3 years from 24.5-49yrs and every 5 years from 50 – 64 years. If there are any abnormal cells found, then people will be asked to attend more frequently (6months – 1 year).

If I have not had sex, do I still need to have a cervical screening?

It depends on what is meant by sex. If someone has a partner, HPV can live on sex toys and skin, so by having foreplay this can pass the HPV from one person to another.

Do I still need screening if I have had the HPV vaccination?

Yes. The Gardasil/ Cervarix vaccinations only cover 2 strains of the HPV, so as there are over 40 strains which can contribute/cause cervical cancer, then you definitely still need to attend cervical screening.

Do I still need screening if I have changed my gender?

If you have a cervix, then yes you definitely need to have a cervical screen.