Now, let me start this post by saying I’m not a doctor (obviously) and I may have some things incorrect here, but I’m just going off my personal experience which will most likely be different to the next person.
Also. WARNING MAY BE RATHER PERSONAL AND MAY BE A BIT TOO MUCH INFO FOR SOME PEOPLE TO READ and it will be a LONG post, so grab a cuppa and read ahead if you’re interested.
The #SmearForSmear campaign was going around on Twitter a few months back and I asked if anyone would like to see a post on my experiences with smear tests as, although I’m 22 (23 this Sunday!) I’ve had my fair share of smears, colposcopy treatments and cervical biopsies, a lot of you said yes please.
So here goes.
Rewind back to Jan/Feb time in 2015, I started having awful pain during intercourse, no matter what me and my boyfriend tried, we just couldn’t get the pain to subside – to the point where it felt like I was getting stabbed in my ovaries and the pain lasted for 4-5 days AFTER intercourse.. not good.
I also had abnormal bleeding – spotting mainly and also extended periods which is strange for me as I have the contraceptive implant in and I rarely have periods and if I do, they last 2-3 days at the most, I ended up having a month long period at one point, so that was another red flag (no pun intended..) for me.
I contacted my local GP as she’s lovely, and I feel very comfortable talking to her (which is always good! please please trust your GP!) and she decided to refer me for some vaginal swabs as well as a smear, which is unusual for a 21-year-old to get a smear as the current age for smears is 25 which personally, after my experience I think is far too old.
So, March rolls around, and I get my smear, now. If you’ve never had a smear, I’ll run through the process quickly for you so that you know what to expect!
I went to my local GP and was seen by a nurse, who made me lay down on a bed, let my legs flop to the side while also having my soles of my feet pressing together, told me to relax and inserted a lubed up speculum so she could get access to my cervix to take swabs.
It’s uncomfortable, but bearable so do NOT worry about having a smear if you’re scared, they are completely normal, and if you do experience any pain during your smear, please mention it to your nurse or doctor as it shouldn’t be painful.
The process only takes around 10-15 minutes in total, and then you just leave and carry on your day as normal and wait for the results to either be mailed out to you, or you get a phonecall. If anyone else has any other questions about my experience, feel free to tweet or email me.
I got my smear done at the end of March and my results in April, so they don’t take too long to arrive! If you are concerned you can always phone up your GP’s office to see if they have the results early – don’t be afraid to ask questions!
In April, my smear results came back as abnormal, and I had an appointment for May to visit the gynaecology department at my local hospital for a Colposcopy.
A colposcopy is a procedure to find out whether there are abnormal cells on or in a woman’s cervix or vagina. The cervix is the part of the womb that sits in the vagina.
A microscope (colposcope) with a strong light will be used to look at your cervix. The colposcope doesn’t enter the vagina and remains outside your body. If the colposcope has a camera attached to it, you may be able to see images of your cervix on a small screen. Some solutions will be applied to the cervix to highlight the abnormal areas.
During my colposcopy I had a few cervical biopsies taken to check for abnormalities as the liquid they use to make the abnormalities show up had shown some whiter areas which then prompted my specialist to do a procedure called a LLETZ which is a “Large loop excision of the transformation zone” The “transformation zone” is the junction between the skin on the surface of your cervix and the delicate tissue that lines the birth canal at its entrance.
LLETZ can be carried out at the same time as a colposcopy and involves removing the area of the cervix where abnormal cells are. This is done using a thin wire loop that’s heated with an electric current.
LLETZ takes 5-10 minutes and is usually carried out as an outpatient procedure, which means you won’t need to stay in the hospital overnight. A local anaesthetic is usually injected into the cervix to numb the area. However, you may experience some mild pain, similar to period pain.
If a larger area of the cervix needs to be treated, the procedure will take longer, and you may need a general anaesthetic.
I had to have general anaesthetic, and I’m not going to lie, getting an injection into your cervix hurts, it was SO bloody painful, and it also stung while they were injecting the anaesthetic in (just like it does if you get a flu jab or something) but once the anaesthetic kicked in I didn’t feel any of the procedure.
Now, the aftermath of the procedure.
I’m an absolute wimp when it comes to pain, and I’ll be the first to admit this, but it was horrible, it was like period pain on steroids, and I was bed bound for two days. I also had a fair bit of bleeding due to getting the LLETZ, as it burns the affected tissue so you are left with scabs inside that will come away (yes, lovely, I warned you it was going to be a bit.. TMI!)
I ended up having to take paracetamol and codeine every 4 hours for the first few days to cope with the pain as it was unbearable, the specialist did say I had a large area of tissue removed though so that could be why I was in a lot of pain.
I was instructed NOT to lift anything heavy while healing and to take care having baths as you are prone to getting an infection while healing, so sticks to showers while you’re healing – trust me, you don’t want an infection as I found the pain bad enough just having the procedure.
I was away in Switzerland when I received my biopsy results, my mum phoned me and asked me if she wanted me to open the letter and read it as it was clearly important, so she did.
The biopsy showed CIN2 which is:
Grading CIN and CGIN
CIN is graded from one to three. Grade one corresponds to a mild type of abnormality, as detected by your screening test. Grades two and three reflect moderate and severe abnormalities respectively.
CGIN is usually classed as either low-grade or high-grade. Regarding severity and risk, high-grade CGIN is equivalent to CIN 3 (see below).
If you have CIN 1 (low-grade) cells, it’s unlikely that you’ll develop cancer. The abnormal cells will often disappear without treatment to remove them.
You’ll usually be invited for a cervical screening test in 12 months to check that the abnormal cells have gone.
CIN 2, CIN 3 or CGIN
If you have CIN 2, CIN 3 or CGIN (high-grade) cells, your risk of developing cervical cancer is increased.
Removing the abnormal cells will usually be recommended to lower your risk of developing cervical cancer.
As I had CIN2, the specialist could see due to the amount of white-ish cells shown in the colposcopy so she treated it there and then with the LLETZ, my results also showed that the LLETZ was successful and had removed the abnormalities, so here I was, in Switzerland, crying with happiness on a coach in front of my other classmates! I was SO relieved (I have major anxiety so having the good news was a massive weight lifted)
Having CIN2, 3 or CGIN means you need to have a follow-up smear in 6 months, so.. December comes, I go for my smear.
One comment I have to make, is on my follow-up smear the nurse refused to do it at first because of my age, YES I was 22 at the time, YES I was referred for the smear I didn’t just ASK for one, why should we have to fight to get a smear?! Just because I wasn’t 25 – it’s rather irritating.
She eventually did the smear after looking up my medical history as she didn’t even believe me which was a major insult (thanks!)
With it being the Christmas period, as my follow up smear was mid-December, I didn’t get my results til mid-January, which showed I have a negative smear result but I tested positive for HPV.
HPV (Human Papilloma virus) is incredibly common, it is classed as an STI as some strains can cause genital warts (I don’t have that type) and the other strains can cause changes in cervical cells (that’s the type I have) there is no treatment for HPV, but if you did have some of the other symptoms such as genital warts etc. you can treat the symptoms.
The types of HPV that cause genital warts are “low-risk” and aren’t associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer (source: nhs.uk)
So, I got referred to colposcopy again, for another biopsy! No anaesthetic, no LLETZ – just a simple punch biopsy and general examination which took place on 12th Feb 2016, again at my local hospital.
I got my results of the biopsy on 24th Feb 2016 which showed CIN1 and to have a follow-up smear in Feb 2017 just at my local GP surgery again.
Which that’s all fine and dandy, knowing it’s not bad that I require treatment so I can just get on with my life, yeah?
Fast forward to April this year.
I started having the same symptoms again, pain during intercourse, spotting, pain lasting few days after intercourse, nausea etc.. Which to be honest has freaked me the f%@* out, so I contacted my doctor again at the end of April and I’m now being referred for swabs, an ultrasound and may need an earlier smear if the ultrasound doesn’t show anything. So I’m currently waiting for those letters to come through with my appointment dates, and I will probably do a follow-up post if I require any treatment.
EDIT: Since I typed this up this morning, I have got my letter to phone to arrange an appointment and the soonest they can see me is 28th June, so unless I get an appointment before then I won’t be updating until after
It’s a delicate subject that sadly, not a lot of women talk about, why shouldn’t we? We need to raise awareness for something so serious. I didn’t ever, ever expect to have to go through this at all, but you don’t expect it does you? Please, if you have any changes in period length, heaviness, any pain during intercourse, anything strange going on that isn’t normal for you, please contact your GP and don’t be afraid to talk to them – they are there to help.
If anyone has any questions or just wants to have a general chat, I’m here. I’m happy to support anyone else going through similar things – you AREN’T alone, please just email me, tweet me, anything – just get in touch.