Cervical screening letter? Go.
This is quite a personal topic, and I felt a bit uncomfortable writing about it, and I was nervous to post, but then I realised that there was absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about, and maybe it would help and encourage someone else, so I wanted to share it…
I first got a letter to go for a smear test when I was 24. I didn’t want to go. I put it off. I was embarrassed, and anyway, I knew that the UK doesn’t invite you for a test until you’re 25, so I figured it would be fine to wait a bit.
Six months later, after two more letters, I finally made myself make an appointment. I kept telling myself that the nurses did this every day and that of course I’d be fine so there was nothing to worry about.
The test itself was honestly fine. I was stupidly nervous, but the nurse was quite matter-of-fact, which actually helped as it reiterated how often they do this. I had worn a skirt as I felt more comfortable and didn’t feel completely naked! It was a bit uncomfortable but not painful like I’d expected, and it literally lasted about 15 seconds. I was told I’d get the results in a few weeks, and I left the doctors and didn’t think anything more about it.
A few weeks later, a letter arrived, telling me I had an abnormal result, and I needed to go to the hospital for a colposcopy.
I panicked. I had no clue what this meant. After a lot of googling (which I’d advise against to be honest) I found out that it was similar to a smear, but lasts a bit longer, and they use a microscope with a light to have a look. They also use a liquid to show up any abnormal cells, and they might do a biopsy.
When I got to the hospital, the staff were completely lovely and really put me at ease. The nurse doing the tests explained what they were going to do. The liquid stuff they used felt odd, and stung a little but wasn’t too painful. I do remember a really horrible dolphin poster they had on the ceiling. I assume it was meant to be comforting or happy but it was just a bit creepy, so I just put my headphones in to distract myself. They did take a biopsy, which did sting, but really didn’t take too long, and the whole thing lasted about 15 minutes. On the monitor, they could see the abnormal cells, but she said I’d have to wait for the biopsy results.
When the results came back a few weeks later, the letter told me that I had CIN3 and would need treatment as soon as possible.
(Taken from the NHS website)
About 6 in every 10 women have abnormal cells in their cervix – known as cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia (CIN) or cervical glandular intra-epithelial neoplasia (CGIN).
This isn’t cancer, but there’s a risk it could turn into cancer if untreated.
Abnormal cells may be detected while a colposcopy is carried out, but a biopsy will be needed to determine what the risk of these becoming cancerous is and whether treatment is needed.
The different types of abnormal biopsy result and what they mean are as follows:
- CIN 1 – it’s unlikely the cells will become cancerous and they may go away on their own; no treatment is needed and you’ll be invited for a cervical screening test in 12 months to check they’ve gone
- CIN 2 – there’s a moderate chance the cells will become cancerous and treatment to remove them is usually recommended
- CIN 3 – there’s a high chance the cells will become cancerous and treatment to remove them is recommended
- CGIN – there’s a high chance the cells will become cancerous and treatment to remove them is recommended
I remember crying and panicking, but kept telling myself it wasn’t uncommon, that they’d caught it and it could be treated. I repeatedly kicked myself for not going sooner – maybe it would have been a lower type, they could have found and treated it sooner, but at least I went when I did.
I had treatment about four weeks later. They wanted me to go in sooner, but Sam and I had a trip to Singapore and Thailand booked for just two weeks after I got the results, and if I had the treatment before going, they didn’t advise flying, and if I had any side effects, being on a remote Thai island would not be ideal. They booked me in for three days after I got back from our holiday, and I forced myself to forget about it while we were away.
The treatment itself is called LLETZ, or large loop excision of the transformation zone (catchy, I know). They use a thin wire loop thingy that is heated with an electric current. I remember they put a blue pad thing on my leg which would stop me conducting the electricity and getting a shock… You’re awake while it’s done, they just give you a local anaesthetic. Once it was done, I was advised to rest for the rest of the day, but was told I could get on with things as normal the next day.
Recovery-wise, you’re advised not to swim for a couple of weeks, no sex or tampons for four weeks, and you may find that you bleed for around four weeks.
I had to go back for a colposcopy six months later. I was absolutely distraught when I was told that once again, I had abnormal CIN cells. However, I was also about eight weeks pregnant at this point, so while they can do the colposcopy, they can’t do any treatment until after the baby is born, so I would just have regular checks throughout my pregnancy. Because I’d had the LLETZ treatment, my pregnancy was also classed as high-risk, so I was monitored carefully throughout. I had a check-up at 15 weeks, and the doctor told me that all the bad cells had gone as a result of the increased blood flow thanks to my pregnancy. I actually couldn’t believe it (thanks Dougie).
All women who have a baby are advised to have a smear a few months after giving birth, and I was immediately offered a colposcopy. I was really anxious about the results of this one, and by this point I no longer worried about the actual tests, I was just so grateful that I’d had them and that they’d caught everything. The results came back, and no abnormal cells were detected.
I still have to go back every year for the next couple of years to make sure the abnormal cells haven’t returned, but hopefully the results will continue to come back fine.
I always assumed that my results would be fine, that there wouldn’t be anything wrong, and so I put the test off, partly out of laziness, mostly out of embarrassment. Ladies, when you get your letter, go. Book an appointment, don’t put it off. If anyone has any questions or wants to know anything more, let me know, I’ve become pretty knowledgeable about it!