Dreading Your Smear? Here’s Why It’s All Going To Be OK
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer for women in their mid-thirties, with almost 1,000 deaths from this disease per year. Despite the risks, more and more women are skipping their screenings.
If the thought of having a cervical screening (a smear test) makes you cringe, you’re not alone. Recent statistics found that 1 in 4 women are avoiding getting themselves screened (and in the mid-20s age bracket, the number is closer to 1 in 2). But regular screening is a fundamental aspect of female self-care, so before you decide to put it off for another year, please read our post to find out why.
WHY ARE SCREENING NUMBERS SO LOW?
According to various research, here are some of the main reasons why women missed their screenings. If you find yourself in any of these categories, we have some suggestions.
1. Bad Past Experiences
REASON FOR SKIPPING A SMEAR: A previously uncomfortable or negative experience having a smear test
WHAT TO DO: There’s nothing like a bad experience at the doctor to make us run in the other direction. This is an entirely natural response. A good experience, however, can set things right. In order to make sure your next smear test is as comfortable as possible, consider trying these things.
- Speak up. At the beginning of your appointment, let the doctor know that you’ve had a previous experience that has made you uneasy. Talking about it will alert the doctor to how you’re feeling, and ensure that they take extra care to make you feel comfortable.
- Ask for a female doctor. Some clinics (like ours) will automatically book you in with a female doctor or nurse, but if you are uncertain, it is always a good idea to double check.
- Consider taking a friend with you. You are always allowed to have someone in the room with you, which can make the process much less intimidating. If you can’t find a friend to go with you, you can ask the clinic to give you a chaperone.
2. Am I Normal?
REASON FOR SKIPPING A SMEAR: Feeling worried or self-conscious that your vagina is somehow abnormal, i.e. looks or smells “weird”.
WHAT TO DO: In terms of appearance, the only marker of ‘normal’ in the medical world is ‘healthy’. No two vulvas or vaginas look the same, they all have different shapes, colours, hair, and labia (vaginal lips). No one understands this better than a doctor or nurse who performs cervical screenings every day!
- Remember that to a doctor, ‘normal’ simply means ‘healthy’, and if there is anything out of the ordinary, the doctor is the best person to help you.
- An abnormal smell does not give the doctor a reason to judge you! In all likelihood there is nothing wrong with you. It is normal for a healthy vagina to have a natural smell (in spite of what the makers of vaginal hygiene products would have you believe). If there is a very strong smell or an unusual discharge, this could be a sign of infection. If you are concerned about this, talk to the doctor about it beforehand. They will be able to reassure you, or, if after examining you they share your concerns, they can recommend any relevant testing to ensure that you do not have an infection.
3. Personal Grooming
REASON FOR SKIPPING A SMEAR: Self-conscious because you are overdue for a wax
WHAT TO DO: The fact that this came up as a popular reason why women skip their smear tests shows how deeply ingrained we are with popular ideas of how we ought to look.
- The only person whose business this is, is yours. A professional doctor will not judge you. In fact, they are unlikely to even notice what’s going on with your grooming situation.
- If the idea of having a smear test with an unkempt lady garden genuinely makes you want to skip your appointment, no worries! Just put ‘book smear test’ beneath ‘book wax’ on your To-Do list – Ta-Da! Just remember not book either of them for the days when you’ll be having your period.
4. It Isn’t That Important
REASON FOR SKIPPING A SMEAR: Lack of understanding about what a smear test is, and why it’s important
WHAT TO DO: Read up a little before your appointment to understand more about cervical cancer and what is involved in screening. One of the most reassuring things to know about smears is that they are fast. You’ll be in with the doctor for about 15-20 minutes, but the procedure itself takes about a minute.
- A cervical screen checks for the presence of abnormal cells in the cervix. Through smear testing, it is possible to grade these cell changes, to see how much at risk they are of becoming cancerous. If these cells are caught early on, they can be treated before the cells become cancerous.
- In other words, a smear test can prevent a case of cancer! So if you are due for a screening, please don’t put it off. It can save your life.