Understanding cervical screening can be confusing. You may have questions about smear tests. Common questions about smear tests include when to have one, how to prepare, and how often to get them.
One question that often causes confusion is - "Can you have a smear test on your period?". Let's debunk any myths and share some important facts and advice.
What Exactly Is a Smear Test?
To begin, let's understand what a smear test means. A smear test is a way for doctors to find abnormal cells on the cervix. These cells might turn into cervical cancer later, so it's really important to spot them early. It is also known as a Pap test or cervical screening.
How Often Do You Have a Smear Test?
In the UK, you'll be invited for a cervical screening when you turn 25. The NHS suggests women aged 25-49 should then have a smear test every three years. For women between 50 and 64 years old, they recommend getting the test every five years. It's a good way to keep an eye on your health and prevent problems down the line.
When Is The Best Time To Have a Smear Test?
You might be wondering, "When is the right time to get a smear test?" The best time to schedule your smear test is in the middle of your menstrual cycle. This is usually between day 10 and day 20. However, the timing may vary depending on the length of your cycle.
The middle of your cycle is when doctors can get the clearest look at your cervix. This makes it easier for them to get a good cell sample.
Can You Have a Smear Test on Your Period?
The next question you might be asking is, "Can I have a smear test while I'm on my period?". Doctors suggest not to get a smear test during your period. Why? Well, when you're on your period, there's a lot of extra blood and cells from the lining of your uterus.
Having a smear test when bleeding could make the test results less clear. So, it's often better to plan your smear test for a time when you're not on your period. This will help make sure the results are as accurate as possible.
Getting Ready: What to Do Before a Smear Test
What should you do before a smear test? It's really important to avoid doing a few things for at least 24 hours before your test. This includes douching (which is when you rinse out your vagina with water or other fluids), using tampons, or having sex. These activities might wash away or cover up any unusual cells that the doctors need to see during the test.
The Procedure: What Happens During a Smear Test?
So what happens during a smear test? It's actually a pretty straightforward process. The doctor or nurse will use a small tool called a speculum to gently open up your vagina. This makes it easier for them to see your cervix, which is the lower part of your womb.
Then, they use a little brush to collect a sample of cells from your cervix. You might feel a bit of pressure when they do this, but it shouldn't be painful. Once the doctor collects the cells, they send them to a lab where they are checked for anything unusual.
Does a Smear Test Hurt?
Most people find the test a bit uncomfortable, but it shouldn't cause pain. If you feel any pain, let your nurse know so they can make adjustments. Remember, the more relaxed you are, the more comfortable you're likely to feel.
Common side effects of a smear test can include mild discomfort, minimal cramping, and light bleeding after the smear test.
Some top tips to make your smear test feel more comfortable include:
- Ask for a female nurse: If you're more comfortable with a female nurse doing the test, you can ask for one.
- Taking deep breaths: This can help to relax your muscles and make you feel more comfortable
- Listening to your favorite music: Listening to your favourite music can help you feel relaxed and distracted
- Watching something on your phone: This can keep you distracted and help the procedure go by quickly
- Ask for a smaller speculum: If the speculum feels painful, then your doctor or nurse can use a smaller one.
- Wear period pants: Absorbent period pants can prevent leaks from light bleeding after your cervical smear test.
- Ask to change position: If you feel pain or discomfort, tell the doctor or nurse doing the test. They can help you change positions to feel more comfortable.
- Bring a friend along: Bringing a friend or someone you trust can help put you at ease.
- Take a hot water bottle: Taking a wearable hot water bottle with you can help ease any cramping that you might feel after the procedure.
Every woman is different, so it's important to try the tips that work best for you. This will help you feel more at ease, and make the experience easier.
Can You Request A Smear Test Early?
Absolutely. If you have unusual bleeding, or a family history of cervical cancer, you can request an early smear test. It's always best to talk to your doctor about your worries so you can decide together what's best for you.
Making Sense of Your Smear Test Results
Once the lab has looked at the cells from your cervix, you'll get the results of your smear test. Getting your results can make you nervous. It's important to remember that an 'abnormal' result doesn't mean you have cervical cancer.
An 'abnormal' result means that some of the cells on your cervix aren't looking quite right. These changes can often be due to other reasons, but doctors prefer to check these things out just in case. They'll probably want to do some more tests or possibly repeat the smear test after a short period of time.
If the cervical screening results come back 'normal', that's great. It means that all the cells in your cervix look healthy. But remember, it's important to keep getting regular smear tests, as the situation can change.
Remember, the main goal of a smear test is to prevent cervical cancer, not to diagnose it. It's all about spotting any changes early, before they have a chance to develop into something more serious. Regular smear tests are one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer.
Personal Experiences and Stories
Hearing firsthand experiences can really help clear up some of the worry around cervical screening tests. It's especially reassuring for women who might be anxious about getting their own tests done. So, let's have a look at what some women who've been through it have to say:
- In a post on The Eve Appeal, Sarah, a 28-year-old woman, shares her experience of her first smear test. Despite her nerves, she found the process to be manageable. She says, "I can honestly say that my smear test was 100% worth it. The minor discomfort was nothing compared to the relief of knowing I was okay."
- Lisa has been going for regular smear tests for over two decades. In a blog post on Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, she writes, "The process is quick and can save your life. Please don’t ignore your invite." She encourages all women to attend their cervical screening when invited.
- On The Huffington Post, Amy shares her experience of her first smear test, admitting her initial fears. She writes, "The thought of my smear test was definitely worse than the reality. I hope other women, like me, will realize it's not as scary as it seems."
Your health should always be a priority, and part of maintaining your health includes regular smear tests. It may be uncomfortable, and even a bit anxiety-inducing, but the benefits far outweigh these temporary discomforts. Remember, early detection through cervical screening can save lives.
So, don't hesitate or postpone booking the appointment. Remember, a few minutes of discomfort can result in peace of mind and potentially save your life!