January marks the month for Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (17th – 23rd), which aims to raise awareness of the importance of regular smear tests to help prevent cervical cancer, as there are over 3,000 new cases of each year*.
Pap smears are one of the best ways to detect cervical cancer, however, the pandemic has seen less people attend their appointment, which could potentially have life-changing impacts.
To encourage people to get their pap smear, intimate wellbeing brand INTIMINA’s in-house gynaecologist, Dr Shree Datta, shares her top tips on how to make your pap smear test more comfortable.
1. Time your appointment around your period
If you have painful or heavy periods, having a smear test during your period may be more uncomfortable, so it’s worth considering booking a test when you’re not scheduled to be on your period. Additionally, heavy bleeding can affect your smear test results and we may not be able to see your cervix clearly, so you may have to have the smear repeated. It can be normal to bleed after a smear, but if you experience bleeding after sex or in between periods, do tell your doctor.
2. Make sure you’re comfortable with your doctor
It’s important to feel relaxed, so make sure you are comfortable with the person who is taking your smear. Tell your doctor beforehand if you have had problems with examinations previously or if this is your first smear test. Remember, your doctor has taken many smears before so there is no need to feel embarrassed, or worry about the type of underwear you are wearing. As a gynaecologist, I don’t notice whether you have shaved your legs, I’m simply glad you have attended your smear test given it’s an important health check.
3. Don’t rush
Make sure you’re not in a hurry, as this can make you feel more tense. Try to schedule enough time for your appointment so you don’t feel rushed.
4. Wear something comfortable
It’s more convenient to have a smear taken when wearing a skirt or a dress, as you only need to take off your underwear and you may feel less self conscious.
5. Ask for a small speculum to be used with lubricant
It’s worth asking for a small speculum with lubricant applied before it’s inserted into your vagina, as this reduces the uncomfortable sensation of stretching when we take a smear. However, be aware that we may need to change the speculum size if we cannot get a clear view of your cervix using a small speculum because this may otherwise impact on the quality of the smear obtained and you may need to get it repeated. Getting a clear view of your cervix at the time of the smear taking enables us to inspect the cervix as well as taking a full smear so we can visualise any abnormalities.
6. Change your position during smear taking
Some people find lying flat on their back for smear-taking very uncomfortable and we may not always get good views. An alternative position may be sitting on a gynaecologist couch or popping your fists under your bottom to tilt your cervix forward. If your doctor has had problems visualising or obtaining a smear previously let the person taking your smear know this, so we can prepare accordingly.
7. Focus on your breathing
Use deep breathing techniques during your smear test to relax your pelvic muscles so that we can obtain a full smear.
8. Empty your bladder
Going to the toilet to empty your bladder before your appointment may also be helpful to help you feel more relaxed.
9. Consider taking pain relief beforehand
Consider taking some pain relief half an hour to an hour before your smear test if you find it uncomfortable.
10. Bring a friend or family member
Previously you may have been able to bring a friend to your appointment to talk to you whilst you have a smear taken, check if you are able to do so but please note that this option may not be available due to COVID-19 currently.