Let’s talk Fanny.
Flange. Taco, Pussy, Poon. Snatch. Clam. Minge. Muff. Vadge. Fanny.
I don’t care what you call it.
What I do care about though, is the eye watering stat that more than a quarter of young women are too embarrassed to attend smear tests, with 72% of the 25-29 year-old respondents admitting they don’t feel comfortable getting undressed in front of doctors or nurses.
In fact, more than 1.2million women are risking their lives by avoiding smear tests, a charity has warned as screenings hit a 20-year low.
Now don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty more things I’d rather be doing than whipping off my kecks for some unassuming screening nurse. However, this stuff is so, so, so important.
So, let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about cervical screening.
Let’s vocalise why it’s necessary and what it’s like.
Let’s remove the connotations of embarrassment because quite frankly – taking our health seriously and looking after our bodies is one of the most empowering things we can do.
Hopefully, by doing this, more ladies like you and I will make their appointments.
As someone who has had to have multiple additional screenings and checks, it’s safe to say that whilst relatively young, I know the score with smears. I’ve even had the delight of a colposcopy, which is essentially a fancy photoshoot for your cervix.
If that doesn’t make you feel special, I don’t know what will.
Let’s go back to basics. What is a smear/cervical screening?
Our NHS describes it as…
“A cervical screening test (previously known as a smear test) is a method of detecting abnormal cells on the cervix. The cervix is the entrance to the womb from the vagina.”
Cervical screening isn’t a test for cancer, it’s a test to check the health of the cells of your cervix. For around one in twenty women, the test can sometimes show abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.
In most cases, these changes won’t lead to cervical cancer, and tend to go back to normal on their own. However in some cases the cells need to be removed so they can’t become cancerous, making it incredibly important to have regular checks.
What is the procedure actually like?
Your screening nurse asks you to get yourself ready behind a curtain in the locked treatment room. They ask you to remove your lower half clothing, come in when you’re ready and douse a speculum in lubricant (it looks like a plastic duck bill), and then ease it into the entrance of your vagina. Once they’ve got your cervix in view, they insert a small soft brush and gently sweep the cervix to collect some cells for screening.
I’ve had three smears and a colposcopy and they really don’t hurt. It feels slightly cold, clinical and uncomfortable (particularly if you are feeling tense about it) but it takes five minutes.
That’s it! Five mildly exposed minutes for a test that could potentially save your life.
What if I have abnormal cells?
If a sample taken during the cervical screening test shows low-grade or borderline cell abnormalities, you may be referred for a colposcopy which is a slightly more invasive test to explore further/help determine future treatment.
What is a colposcopy?
Again, the NHS handily describes it as:
A simple procedure used to look at the cervix, the lower part of the womb at the top of the vagina.
These tests happen in the hospital. When you enter the room, two of the screening staff (female) calmly explain how the procedure is going to work, and guide you into a room so that you can undress from the waist down and put a gown on.
Once you’re back in the room, they ask you to lie down on a special chair with stirrups, and then use a speculum to open you up gently. They then use a special microscope with a light to look at your cervix but it doesn’t touch or enter your body. The lady screening you then proceeds to press different dyes onto your cervix using a patch of soft material, and then continues to look at your cervix through different coloured lenses to spot any abnormal areas.
You have the option to watch everything they are doing on the screen (which I found to be a bit of a weird experience). They can sometimes take a small sample of tissue (a biopsy), this takes seconds and feels a little bit uncomfortable. When they took my first sample, it felt a little like a sharp poke deep in my stomach.
Afterwards you can sometimes end up with what feels like period pains, and it’s probably best to expect your loo water to be stained with the dye when you go for a wee afterwards!
Still having doubts?
Ultimately – it’s your choice, but as someone who has had a fair share of exposure to the process and is still being monitored (next colpsocopy is in April!), I can safely say you won’t ever regret going for cervical screening.
Yes, it can be a bit embarrassing to drop your trousers for a complete stranger – but everyone in that process has dedicated their careers to ensuring people like you and I don’t end up with cervical cancer and can live long, healthy lives.
It’s completely normal to feel a bit nervous about a medical procedure, but these nurses and doctors understand and approach the procedure calmly and with respect to put you at ease.
So what are you waiting for? Sign up now!