Overcoming smear fear with the Online Community

5 minute read time.

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Many people worry about attending cervical screening appointments, due to anxiety, existing health worries and concerns about the procedure. It’s ok to feel a range of emotions including embarrassment, and by being a member of our Community cancer forums you’ll probably find that you’re not alone in feeling this way.

It can be helpful to have the factual information about what to expect and our ‘Cervical cancer prevention blog’ has some helpful information about why it’s important to attend and keep up to date with Cervical screening appointments.

This blog highlights the reassuring voice of our Community members and the support that’s offered to each other when talking about cervical screening. So if you’re feeling anxious or worried about an upcoming Cervical screening appointment, maybe the tips in this blog will help.

How do you know if you need a Smear test?

Cervical cancer screening, more commonly known as a smear or pap test, looks for abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix and helps decide if these changes should be treated.

You may have received your invitation to book your smear test, alongside many other appointments that you have to keep track of. The NHS offers regular cervical screening from the age of 25 to 64 to women who are registered with a GP.

Cervical screening is important for anyone in this age group who:

  • has a cervix
  • and has ever been sexually active with a man or a woman.

If you are a trans man and still have a cervix, you should have screening too. However, you may not be sent an invitation if you are registered as male with your GP. Let your GP know if you want to have cervical screening, so they can arrange regular tests for you.

Going for cervical screening when you have cancer

When you're living with cancer you will most likely have experienced many different tests and procedures, this doesn’t mean that your routine appointments and screenings become any easier to go through, in fact there are probably other factors to consider such as the after effects of surgery or cancer treatment. Using dilators, lack in energy and increased sensitivity to parts of your body may cause you to not attend your Cervical screening appointment.  Our Community members are here to reassure you that it doesn’t have to be this way, hear what they have to say:

“Got hysteroscopy under GA & biopsy result of womb clear & there was cyst on cervix. He also did a cervical smear while I was under GA.”
Inpain2021, Cervical cancer forum

“I was supposed to have my hysteroscopy via local anaesthetic but due to my stenosed cervix they were unable to get a speculum in place - even the virginal size! (I used to hate smear tests as they were painful for me). I therefore was referred to have it done via General but they persuaded my to have it via epidural.”
MrsBJHWomb cancer forum

“I too have vaginal stenosis and my gyno used children's equipment to do my pap and it wasn't painful at all.”
Amazing graceAnal cancer forum

“I was told by my surgeon & oncologist that smear tests if too difficult or uncomfortable to do the regular way, can be done under sedation, here in the UK that would mean a hospital admission though. I had a smear test prior to my surgery so not due another just yet but a lady I have contact with had hers recently & the nurse, as Amazing Grace has said, used the smallest speculum & she said it was fine.”
Nikki65Anal cancer forum

“My paps have always been painful and became a lot worse after menopause. I asked my gynaecologist to do my last pap with sedation, he refused and convinced me to go without. It was super painful. I always have sedation for other procedures like bone marrow biopsies so next time I’m going to insist that they use it.” 
TeletubbyAnal cancer forum

I can understand why it can be embarrassing but it will be a few moments of embarrassment for peace of mind or for catching it earlier rather than later.  Doctors see all sorts so to them this is nothing - have you ever watched the programme embarrassing bodies?

I hope you are going for your cervical smears, I'm thinking that if you are finding this embarrassing that maybe you are not getting your smears done and you really must get those done because cervical cancer is common and treatable especially if caught early.

Saving yourself a bit of embarrassment and putting your life in danger is just not worth it and the doctors really have seen it all on a regular basis - it's nothing at all to them just another day at the office”.
GodwillingNew to the Community

How you can make the cervical screening work for you:

  • Take a friend: they may not be able to go into the room with you, but they could wait in the car or nearby to offer support if you need one after the appointment.

  • Consider what clothing you are going to wear: some people find wearing comfy clothes comforting, even wearing a skirt can help you to feel less exposed if that’s what you’re worried about.

  • Distract yourself: ask if there is a radio that can be turned on, if not, take your music and headphones with you so you can listen on your phone and other devices.

  • Treat yourself: looking after your body deserves to be rewarded so maybe get your favourite snack or drink, perhaps visit the shops and buy something you have had your eye on recently. Whatever you class as a reward, this may be a good time to indulge. 

  • Try to relax: it’s easier said than done, but focussing on your breathing can help. The Macmillan 'Relax and Breathe CD' can be ordered from the website here

  • Boost your confidence: everyone is different so try whatever will work for you, some people wear their favourite perfume as it's a familiar and nicer scent than the treatment rooms but it can also lift your spirits and make you feel confident.

  • Try some Complementary therapies such as aromatherapy: there is more information on the website or in the 'Cancer and Complimentary therapies' booklet. 

We hope that you have found this blog helpful and please do share it with someone who you think it could help. Our comment box below is open to our members if they would like to share some additional tips and a voice of support to anyone reading.