Why you needn’t fear the smear...

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We get why displaying your nether regions to a stranger might rank pretty highly on the embarrassment-o-meter. But we want to encourage you to throw your modesty aside and tick this lifesaving test off your to-do list today.

Sometimes called a Smear Test, Pap Smear or Pap Test - cervical screening is a 5-minute test. It stops up to 75% of all cervical cancer from developing and saves an amazing 5000 lives a year in the UK.

Nervous about what happens at a cervical screening?

We teamed up with Lex Croucher and Sophie Millner to prove how simple and easy getting a smear test is.

Watch the video to find out exactly what happened during theirs.

Cervical cancer screening

Cervical screening is not a test for cancer. It picks up changes to the cells of the cervix before they turn into cancer.

Catching changes early means that they can be treated, preventing these cells from becoming cancerous.

If you’re a Babylon GP at Hand patient, and you think you’re due a smear test, call us now on 0330 8082217

You can choose daytime, evening or weekend appointments for your screening, at any of our clinics.

Let’s start with the basics

You’re not alone if you haven’t a clue what the cervix is.

A survey by Jo’s Trust found that almost half of women do not know that the cervix is the neck of the womb. 1 in 6 couldn’t name a single function of the cervix.

The cervix is found inside the vagina and it has the following roles:

  • It is the passageway between your womb and vagina
  • Your cervix opens slightly to allow menstrual blood out every time you have a period
  • The cervix is also responsible for keeping a baby inside your womb. It opens when giving birth vaginally

What happens on the day

On the day of your cervical screening the nurse will explain the test. She will then ask you to go behind a privacy screen and undress from the waist down, removing trousers and underwear. If wearing a skirt or dress, you can keep these on and just roll them up.

There is usually a paper sheet or towel to cover yourself from the waist down once you are lying on the examination couch. If there isn’t and you would like one, don’t be shy to ask or feel free to take a scarf/pashmina of your own with you on the day.

1. The nurse will come over when you are ready. She'll ask you to bend your knees. Bring your heels towards your bottom with feet together. And then relax your knees apart to as far as is comfortable for you. If you are uncomfortable in this position, don’t worry, let her know and she can suggest another position.

2. Next, she will switch on a light to help her see your cervix. With medical gloves on, gently insert a plastic instrument called a speculum. The speculum helps her to see your cervix. You might feel some pressure when the speculum opens but this shouldn’t hurt.

3. The nurse then passes a little brush through the speculum. She brushes it gently in circles against your cervix. This is how the sample is taken. It does not hurt but can feel a bit tickly.

4. The speculum is gently closed and removed. This is the end of the examination and you can get dressed.

The brush is then placed into a liquid solution. This is shaken to release the cervical cells into the specimen pot. The pot is sent off to the lab to be examined under a microscope.

Your result will be posted to you within 2 weeks. If you do not receive your result, give your GP surgery a ring.

Who is eligible for cervical screening?

This screening is offered free of charge on the NHS and for GP at Hand patients with a cervix, aged 25 to 64.

In the UK, you are automatically invited to attend cervical screening:

  • For the first time around the age of 25
  • Every 3 years thereafter, until age 49
  • Every 5 years between age 50 and 64

What's next?

You will receive a letter or email inviting you to attend your cervical screening. When you call to book an appointment, ideally try to select a day that you are unlikely to be on your period. (Being on your period can affect the sample collected from the cervix.)

These appointments are usually with the nurse. She is someone who will have seen more vaginas and pubic hair styles than you could ever imagine. She'll also be aware that some feel anxious or embarrassed attending for cervical screening. But she will be both professional and reassuring.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is there anything I can do to make the test more comfortable?

Cervical screening is usually not painful and rarely uncomfortable, however there are a few things you can do that can help make the process as comfortable as possible. These include:

Taking slow and deep breaths when having the test done

Thinking about relaxing your bottom muscles down into the bed

Wearing a skirt makes some women feel more comfortable as you don’t need to take it off when having the test

Having a wee beforehand will help if you have a full bladder

Tell the nurse if you are worried or feel any discomfort as she will be able to suggest ways to make it better

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer doesn’t always present with obvious symptoms, which is why screening is so important. Symptoms that can manifest include:

Abnormal vaginal bleeding during or after sexual intercourse, or between periods

Vaginal bleeding after you have been through the menopause

Unusual vaginal discharge

Discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse

Low back pain

I’m pregnant. Should I still go for cervical screening?

Although cervical screening is safe in pregnancy, it is often recommended that you delay a routine smear test until 3 months after you have had your baby. This is because a cervical screening result might be more difficult to interpret when someone is pregnant.

If, however you’ve had abnormal results in the past and are due a repeat test when pregnant, speak to your GP or midwife about this as they will likely recommend you go ahead and have a repeat test in the first trimester.

I’ve had the HPV vaccine. Does this mean I don’t need smear tests?

You still need to have smear tests if you have had the (Human Papillomavirus) HPV vaccine.

HPV infection has been found to be responsible for 99.7% of cervical cancers but the HPV vaccine currently being used does not vaccinate against all of the HPV subtypes that can cause cervical cancer.

My results show borderline/low-grade cell changes. What happens next?

If your result is borderline or low-grade it means that, although there are some abnormal cell changes, they are very mild and likely to return back to looking normal.

Your sample will then be looked at for presence of HPV and if HPV is not found then you are at low risk of developing cervical cancer and will be invited back for routine screening in 3- or 5-years’ time (depending on your age).

If you are HPV positive, you’ll be offered a colposcopy. This is similar to the process of cervical screening, except that the doctor will look at your cervix using a microscope. The microscope remains outside of the vagina throughout the examination.

My results show moderate/severe cell changes. Does this mean I have cancer?

Cervical screening is not a test for cancer. It tests for early pre-cancerous cell changes.

If your result is moderate or severe, you will be offered colposcopy (a similar process to cervical screening but using a microscope) to check the changes in your cervix. Sometimes the abnormal cells can be treated at the time of this appointment.

Other times you will have a little biopsy taken of the cells which will be further looked at under a microscope and you may have to return for another colposcopy session for treatment depending on the biopsy result.

How do I book a cervical screening appointment?

You can book an appointment by contacting your GP surgery.

GP at Hand patients can call 0330 8082217 to book an appointment with a nurse at one of our 5 London clinics.