Cervical Screening - Should I Shave?
© Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri
Telling you what the mainstream media won’t - what is a smear test and why is it important?
Smear tests and gynaecology appointments are something of a phenomenon to many women; we hear about them growing up, but most know very little about what they involve and when they occur. As is often the case with issues such as these, media coverage and journalist articles addressing the subject of PAP tests are few and far between… it’s as if it doesn’t occur to mainstream media that many women have no idea about the protocol of getting a cervical screening, and- as often is the case with anything new- that it is something quite scary for most.
With 100% of respondents to our INJECTION study agreeing that there should be increased awareness of cervical screening, we wanted to prompt questions as to why mainstream media has refrained from sharing more information on such topics. Could the limited exposure concerning PAP tests be as a result of individuals perceiving conversation around such topics taboo? Or is it avoided because there is a common misconception that believes we all know everything there is to know about cervical screening, and thus do not need articles to address these issues? Whatever the presumption, we wanted to address all there is to know about getting a PAP for your WAP.
What is a cervical screening?
A cervical screening is conducted to test for changes in the cells that cover a woman’s cervix; these changes could result in the development of cancer in the future and thus need to be screened to ensure that this doesn’t occur. The cell sample that is taken from your cervix is tested for high-risk types of wart virus, Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV infection causes more than 99% of cervical cancers and thus if it is found, then your sample is checked for any abnormal changes in the cells.
Currently, the age at which women in the UK are invited to book their first smear/ PAP test is 25 years old. A fact that only 50% of women- in a study conducted by INJECTION- were aware. 97.5% agreed that the age to ‘qualify’ for a cervical screening in the UK should be dropped to the age of 18 years old, as many women become sexually active at this age, if not before. HPV can be contracted from skin-to-skin contact of the genital area, vaginal, oral or anal sex and the sharing of sex toys, and so poses a risk to any sexually active individual, even men, although it rarely forms into genital cancers for guys. It encourages the question- shouldn’t the 25-year-old quota for cervical screenings be reduced to a more realistic age that individuals become sexually active?
How and where do you get a cervical screening?
In the UK, all women aged 25-64 years old are routinely invited for their cervical screening every three years (25-50y/o) or five years (51-64y/o). Although most are conducted in your GP surgery, smears can be taken in family-planning, sexual health or private clinics.
Common FAQs and concerns
Should I wait for my next cervical screening if I am experiencing vaginal pain?
If you experience any bleeding between periods or after sex, or any abnormal vaginal discharge or pain, then it is extremely important to contact your GP!
Should I shave before my smear test?
It is completely a personal preference; if you like it hairy then let your locks flow! Equally, if you prefer to brave the shave then that is also cool too. The nurses really don’t care either way, they just need to get in there, so maybe try and avoid doing some weird braids or something?
How do I prepare for my smear?
If you’re on your period, it is best to enlighten your GP to reschedule as it can be difficult to get a clear reading when you’re bleeding. It is also best to avoid using any lubricants or vaginal creams 2 days before your test as these can affect the test results.
What happens during my cervical screening?
Usually lasting around 10 minutes, cervical screenings only take around one to two minutes and are usually performed by a female nurse. You’ll be asked to undress from the waist down and to lie on your back. It is really important that you relax! There is nothing to worry about and if you experience any discomfort then it is perfectly normal and encouraged for you to let the nurse know in order to make you more comfortable with the process. A speculum will be used to gently open your vagina in order for the nurse to be able to see and access the cervix (neck of the womb). A small brush will be used to swab the cervix and collect a sample of cells- this sample will be sent to a lab to be tested. After this it’s all done- you will receive your results within two weeks.
Every year, circa to 3,200 women in the UK alone are diagnosed with cervical cancer, which is the fourth most common cancer in women. It is scary and real and therefore so important that we all regularly attend our cervical screenings, even if we are no longer sexually active (as HPV can lie dormant for years and cause cell abnormalities later on). Since its introduction, smear tests have halved the number of deaths in the UK as a result of catching cervical cancer earlier and preventing the worst. If you want to find out more, or have any concerns regarding your sexual health, contact your GP or talk to someone you trust for advice.