Cervical Screening, the two words that most near 25 year olds will be scared of. Mostly because they are unsure of what happens during the process, are worried about what it is going to be like and it mainly boils down to whether or not it is painful. Everyone has a different experience during their smear, not everyone's is going to be the same. But, don't always believe the horror stories! Sometimes these are just complete hearsay and most of the time are irrelevant and hinder people into booking in with their doctor or nurse.

Let's get one thing straight, a Cervical Screening (or a smear) is a painless procedure, but a mildly uncomfortable one at that. It lasts for a few seconds and you are in and out of the door within minutes. Obviously, if you are one of those who are unsure of the process, will not know this, but you are really not in the room for longer than deemed necessary. The nurse will also go through the whole procedure with you, to make you feel a lot comfortable through the process and you will know what they are doing, to make you feel more relaxed.

It has been 3 years now since I was invited for my very first cervical screening, I would have only been 24 years old as they would normally send the letters out 6 months before your 25th birthday. I had never been for a cervical screening before, so I really didn't know what to expect at first. I had seen other consultants previously and had been checked down there before, so I weren't frightened about a nurse having a look down there. It was the word 'smear' that predominantly made me feel worried. I knew it wouldn't hurt, but I think it was the initial thought of 'what if'. But for others who may have not been checked down there before or not know what is entailed in a cervical screening, this may make them feel anxious about what will happen and some don't even make it to their important which can be very detrimental to their health. If you receive a letter, you should make an appointment straight away.

I had my smear test done at the doctors which was so quick and painless. This is what so many people are afraid off, that the test will hurt and take a while to do, which is not the case at all. A small speculum is inserted inside of you, which will feel a little uncomfortable if you have not experienced this before. It is then opened to get a better look at the cervix, a little brush is then inserted inside (which is soft) is used to take around the cervix to collect cell samples, which will then tickle a little. If you are relaxed, the procedure will take seconds to do and then you are on your way. The test results normally take around 2 weeks to come back and then you are sent a letter through the post with your results.

After 2 weeks, I had received my letter and I was quite worried to open them up, as I didn't know what they would say. Obviously, I was hoping for a normal result, as would everyone. As I opened the letter, it had told my results had come back abnormal and I had stage 1 pre-cancerous cells (low dyskariosis). I literally sobbed my heart out over the letter as I didn't know what was going on. It said in the leaflet after my smear that this doesn't necessarily mean you have cancer, but it is worth having a look with a colposcopy to take a closer look at what is going on inside of me. Colposcopy: a procedure to find out whether there are abnormal cells on or in a woman's cervix or vagina'. So, it was time for my colposcopy appointment and prior to this, I was told what was going to happen in my letter and leaflets that were sent to me too. They would need to look inside me again, but it was not an invasive procedure. They would need to magnify the cervix and a liquid is put onto the cervix to highlight the abnormal cells. Although I was quite worried, I was very intrigued at the same time and I could not take my eyes off the monitor. I was told that they would need to take biopsies from me which are like very quick pinches. I was told to cough and then they would quickly take the samples, which was very quick and painless!

I was told I would need treatment before the results of the biopsies had come back, it looked as though the abnormal cells had progressed and would not go without treatment. The treatment that I had is called a LLETZ - large loop excision of the transformation zone: this is where a hot wire would be used to remove the abnormal cells from my cervix. I was numbed before the procedure was done, although it wasn't quick, I did not feel a thing apart from feeling a little uncomfortable. What they removed was about 10 pence wide and 5 pence deep, to make sure all the abnormal cells were removed. This would also need to be sent off to the lab, just to make sure anything else hadn't spread further.

After my LLETZ procedure, a letter had come through confirming that the biopsies that were taken were actually Stage 2 pre-cancerous cells (moderate dysplasia). I was worried again at this point, although I knew that the abnormal cells don't necessarily mean cancer, but it made me worried for the results of my operation that I had done. So it was all a waiting game really, to see what would come back from that. The downside to the LLETZ procedure is that you are leaking fluid for a few weeks, as they put a solution on your cervix to help you heal properly and it comes out black, you also have a dull ache which makes you feel like you're on your period. You are also not to have sex for 6-8 weeks and advised not to swim in pools as well. The upside is... well being abnormal cell free!

A few weeks had passed and my letter eventually arrived from my LLETZ procedure and the results showed that actually I had Stage 3 precancerous cells and if I had left it any longer, this MAY have turned into cancer. Luckily for me it didn't get that far and managed to catch it early before it was too late. The main reason for my abnormal cells is because I contracted HPV - human papillomavirus: is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract. Most sexually active women and men will be infected at some point in their lives and some may be repeatedly infected. This is in no way an STI, it does not do anything to your body apart from hightening your risk of cervical cancer. So it is important for you to turn up to your smear tests!

I had to have another check up 3 months down the line to make sure the abnormal cells had not returned and these came back all clear, thankfully! But I was called in for another smear 6 months after that. This was in the form of a smear again, so it only took a couple of weeks for my results to come back, to let me know if they are negative or positive. I eventually got the ALL CLEAR!

Some facts about cervical screenings and cancer: -
  • Every day in the UK 9 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer
  • 3 women lose their lives from the disease every day
  • Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women aged 35
  • 75% of cervical cancers are prevented by cervical screening (smear tests) 
  • However 1 in 4 women do not attend this potentially life-saving test 
  • Almost half a million young women aged 25-29 did not attend cervical screening last year.
If you receive your invitation to a cervical screening, please make an appointment as soon as you get your letter. It could potentially save your life and it only takes seconds to get one done. I am so glad I went to mine as soon as I did or didn't ignore the letter altogether because it could have been a different story!

*Images used: free publication via https://www.jostrust.org.uk/