Cervical Screening, commonly called Pap smear is a safe, slightly invasive procedure that is usually done for women/trans women at the age of TWENTY-FIVE. After that it is routinely done every other three years. It is carried out to examine the pelvic tissues and organs especially the cervix. It is also used to test for precancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix and identify primary and metastatic new cell growths in the cervical region. It also helps to identify and tests for sexually transmitted diseases such as HPV, Herpes, Chlamydia, Trichomonas Vaginalis and the common vagina thrush. It further assesses hormonal function as well as assess the effectiveness of brachytherapy (a type of cervical cancer treatment). Finally, pap smear diagnoses endometriosis, vagina adenosis and evaluates cervical changes.
Pap Smear can NEVER be done as a DIY (Do It Yourself). It has to be done by either your doctor, gynaecologist, Nurse Practitioner or Midwife in a hospital. When I arrived at the hospital for mine, my GP explained it was going to take a total of five to fifteen minutes for the pre-smear, smear and post-smear and that I should expect the smear test results in my mail in about 4 weeks time. She then asked me to lie back on the examination couch, have my feet together and open my thighs wide just like I was positioning for missionary sex style. In some cases, your doctor might have your feet in stirrups if you squirm a lot. Either way, I felt invaded and requested for a drape for my thighs to help with a sense of privacy. Please note that this is well within your right to request for. She was going to insert an instrument called speculum into my vagina to dilate the vagina orifice for proper visualisation. The speculum used on my was plastic, but some doctors use metal speculums. Personally I'd rather have a plastic inside me than a metal. Now at the time I was going to have my pap smear done, sex was a painful experience for me and since I realised it was going to involve a speculum going into my vagina, I informed my doctor I was not particularly pain tolerant. She reassured me and explained that the pap smear procedure was going to be PAINLESS. According to her, I would only feel a slight pressure of the fullness from the insertion of speculum but nothing else. So my mind was put at rest when she lubricated the speculum with warm sterile water before inserting it inside me and as assured, it was indeed a painless procedure. The speculum only lasted for about two minutes inside me from the time it was inserted till a cell brush was used to extract cells sample. Now, when you are having yours, I'd advise you try to relax as much as you can. I found out that doing deep breathing exercises (inhale deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth) helped calm me down during my cervical screening and eased the pressure. After the cells extraction, she did a quick bi-manual pelvic examination on me by inserting two fingers in my vagina and using the other hand to apply subtle pressure on my abdomen in order to assess my uterus and adjacent organs. Your doctor/nurse might do this, depending on their discretion. After she was done, I wiped myself clean from front to back as we should all do at all time to keep vagina infections at bay. I changed into a clean set of panties and a panty liner which I had gone along with in case I spot or experience a slight increase of my normal vagina discharge. Both happened as envisaged so you may want to do the same on your visit! I stayed back in my doctor's office for about 15 minutes because I had experienced some slight cramps similar to period cramps after the procedure. I was also offered a cup of water while staying back because it is important to stay hydrated. I made up my mind to go along with my hot water bottle next time so I can place it on my abdomen as it helps with my period cramps. You should too. Taking some paracetamol might also help with the cramps if you are not allergic to them and that ends my cervical screening (pap smear) appointment story. Now from my experience as a Nurse practitioner and as a woman that has gone for pap smear before, I have few pointers for you to take to mind when you're going for yours. First, avoid sexual intercourse at least up to forty-eight hours before your smear test as this could alter your vagina normal flora and as a result alter the test results. Second, avoid douching or using vaginal creams before attending your smear test appointment as this could alter the pH of the vagina and ultimately alter the test results. Third, avoid having your smear test while you are actively menstruating. Although you can have your smear test done while you are on your period, if you are actively bleeding, it can make it difficult for your nurse/doctor to get a clear sample of cells. So I’d advise you to schedule your smear test three to four days after your period. Also, tell your nurse or doctor if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or on contraceptives as any of these could have an effect on your hormones which in turn can alter the test results. Finally empty your bladder before going for smear test. This is just to make you more comfortable. Don't forget it is okay to request the gender of doctor/nurse you would be comfortable with and you also have the right to ask for a chaperone. I have read some uncomfortable stories of male doctors/nurses making sexual jokes while examining women. This is unprofessional and can be avoided by having someone with you as well as report to appropriate authorities if this happens to you. N.B: If you are your in your thirties and have never had a smear test done before, get it done ASAP and request for a HPV test alongside. If your smear result comes back normal, you only have to do the smear test every other three years afterwards. The ideal age to have your first smear test done is when you are 25 years old. If your smear test comes back with any anomaly, your health care provider might request further investigations such as a biopsy or refer you to the required specialist. Till next week when I take you on another juicy health journey, stay safe and stay alive.