The government wants to rebrand smear tests as “cervical screening” because fewer women are going for the test.
The screening is basically a health check for the cervix.
But there’s no doubt it has a bad reputation – and the word “smear” doesn’t exactly sell the procedure.
Whether you’re worried it’ll hurt or be embarrassing, we asked Dr Philippa Kaye about how you can make your test easier – because it does save lives.
Time your appointment with your period
“The best time to have your smear test is when you’re not bleeding,” says Dr Kaye, as that can affect the test.
“Ideally, you would arrange it for somewhere in the middle of your cycle or towards the end of your cycle.”
Dr Kaye adds the test itself might cause some pain similar to menstrual cramps, “but that lasts maximum 30 seconds, and then it’s gone”.
Wear comfortable clothes
The doctor or nurse taking the test needs you to be relaxed when taking the test – so make sure you’re comfortable.
“Maybe you want to wear a skirt, so that we can lift that up and you still feel more covered – as opposed to taking off leggings or jeans,” says Dr Kaye.
Ask for a woman to do the test
If you’re more comfortable with a female doctor or nurse doing the test, you can ask for one.
“I can’t guarantee that that is always available, but in the majority of GP services it is,” says Dr Kaye.
Ask for a smaller speculum
The speculum is the clear plastic instrument which is inserted into the vagina to hold it open.
It shouldn’t need to be warmed up at all.
“If you can tolerate sex or a sex toy, most people will be able to tolerate a speculum,” explains Dr Kaye.
But if it is painful, then your doctor or nurse can use a smaller one.
Put the speculum in yourself
“In my experience that’s never happened to me – if somebody wanted to try, I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with it,” says Dr Kaye.
“It might need a slight change in positioning – but I would be willing to talk about it and try.”
There is talk of a self-sampling test coming in, which would just involve putting a swab in the vagina.
“I think it is something we are going to do in the future and will encourage more women to screen.”
Ask to change position
If you feel pain or discomfort, tell the doctor or nurse doing the test.
“Most women do it on their backs, with their legs up in a diamond shape, but we could do it lying on your side,” says Dr Kaye.
“Slow your breathing down, put your hands by your side, and think about dropping your bottom into the couch.
“We might ask you to put your hands underneath your bottom, or we might ask you to cough.”
That can help the speculum be inserted easier.
Don’t use lubricant
“It’s important that you don’t use spermicide or lots of lubricants in the 24 hours before the test, because it can interfere with the test itself,” says Dr Kaye.
But if you’re uncomfortable, the doctor or nurse may put a small amount of lube on the speculum before inserting it.
Use painkillers if necessary
Painkillers are not generally required, but “if you were really worried and think it would help, you could take paracetamol or ibuprofen before,” says Dr Kaye.
“If you feel that would help you, then there’s no harm, in doing that.”
Don’t self-medicate beyond that though
Save the alcohol for after the test.
“I want women to be empowered – to be as relaxed and able to have their smear test as possible.
“That might mean bringing a friend, or having a reward or treat afterwards – whatever helps you get by.”
But, “if you are drunk, then you are unable to have true consent to have the test.”
That means it’s very unlikely your healthcare professional will allow you to have it.
I’m worried about taking my clothes off in front of someone else
“People always apologise to me that they haven’t waxed,” says Dr Kaye.
“They’re worried about their smell, they’re worried about their pubic hair or leg hair.
“The truth is, your healthcare professional is not thinking about that.
“We have seen thousands of genitals – they’re all different and they’re all normal.
“We’re not embarrassed, and I hope that helps you be less embarrassed about having the test.”
Ask for more time if you need it
“If you are the survivor of a sexual assault, we understand that this could be a really difficult time,” Dr Kaye tells Newsbeat.
“Tell us. Let us book you a double appointment so we can give you more time. Maybe you want to have a friend along too.”
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