YOU’D be pushed to find someone who looks forward to their smear test.
For some people, the test can be uncomfortable or hurt a little – but it takes a mere couple of minutes.
A smear test usually takes less than five minutes. Leave enough time so you don’t feel rushed and can properly relax
For others, they barely notice the procedure has happened before it’s over.
January marks the month for Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (17th – 23rd), which aims to raise awareness of the importance of regular smear tests.
Smears help prevent cervical cancer, which per year is diagnosed 3,000 times and tragically takes the lives of 850.
The test looks for changes in the cells of the cervix and the human papillomavirus (HPV).
By detecting any abnormalities, doctors can prevent cancer from developing.
All women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 64 should be invited by letter to get their smear, and should try to not delay booking their appointment.
There are many reasons people may put off their smear, including being busy, not seeing it as important or fear of pain.
The pandemic has seen less people attend their appointment, which could potentially have life-changing impacts.
To encourage people to get their pap smear, gynaecologist, Dr Shree Datta, working with intimate wellbeing brand INTIMINA, shares her top tips on how to make smear more comfortable.
1. Time your appointment around your period
Try and fit your smear test in around your cycle, so that you are not bleeding when it’s time.
Dr Shree said: “If you have painful or heavy periods, having a smear test during your period may be more uncomfortable, so it’s worth considering booking a test when you’re not scheduled to be on your period.
“Additionally, heavy bleeding can affect your smear test results and we may not be able to see your cervix clearly, so you may have to have the smear repeated.”
There may be a little blood after your smear which is normal.
But Dr Shree said “if you experience bleeding after sex or in between periods, do tell your doctor” – as this need investigating.
2. Make sure you’re comfortable with your doctor
If you’re feeling nervous about your smear test, tell the doctor beforehand.
“Remember, your doctor has taken many smears before so there is no need to feel embarrassed, or worry about the type of underwear you are wearing,” Dr Shree said.
“As a gynaecologist, I don’t notice whether you have shaved your legs, I’m simply glad you have attended your smear test given it’s an important health check.”
3. Don’t rush
Dr Shree said make sure you leave enough time for your appointment.
“Make sure you’re not in a hurry, as this can make you feel more tense,” she said.
4. Wear a skirt
For your smear, you’ll be asked to undress from the waist down behind a curtain before lying on the examination table.
Dr Shree said: “It’s more convenient to have a smear taken when wearing a skirt or a dress, as you only need to take off your underwear and you may feel less self conscious.”
5. Ask for a small speculum
The speculum is the clear plastic instrument which is inserted into the vagina to hold it open.
Dr Shree said you can ask for a small speculum (and lubrication) to reduce “the uncomfortable sensation of stretching”.
“However, be aware that we may need to change the speculum size if we cannot get a clear view of your cervix using a small speculum because this may otherwise impact on the quality of the smear obtained and you may need to get it repeated,” Dr Shree said.
“Getting a clear view of your cervix at the time of the smear taking enables us to inspect the cervix as well as taking a full smear so we can visualise any abnormalities.”
6. Change your position
When you get a smear, usually you lie on an examination table. Your legs are bent, with the feet together and knees apart.
Dr Shree said: “Some people find lying flat on their back for smear-taking very uncomfortable and we may not always get good views.
“An alternative position may be sitting on a gynaecologist couch or popping your fists under your bottom to tilt your cervix forward.
“If your doctor has had problems visualising or obtaining a smear previously let the person taking your smear know this, so we can prepare accordingly.”
7. Focus on your breathing
“Use deep breathing techniques during your smear test to relax your pelvic muscles so that we can obtain a full smear,” Dr Shree said.
Breathing during your smear will help to distract your focus somewhere else, as well as relaxing your muscles for the test.
If you are relaxed, it will be easier for the doctor to take the swab.
8. Empty your bladder
The last thing you want while lying in a compromising position is to have a sudden urge to use the toilet.
Dr Shree said: “Going to the toilet to empty your bladder before your appointment may also be helpful to help you feel more relaxed.”
9. Consider painkillers
If you’re really concerned about the pain, there’s nothing wrong with taking some painkillers beforehand.
Dr Shree said: “Consider taking some pain relief half an hour to an hour before your smear test if you find it uncomfortable.”
10. Bring someone along
Some people find it easier to go through a smear test if they have someone there to distract or comfort them.
Dr Shree said: “Previously you may have been able to bring a friend to your appointment to talk to you whilst you have a smear taken, check if you are able to do so but please note that this option may not be available due to Covid-19 currently.”
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