It is with great sadness that we must announce the closure of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, effective immediately Read More

Let’s Talk about it…having a bad experience at a smear test

Posted on: Friday, 11th May 2018 by Imogen Pinnell, Health Information Manager

If you have had a bad experience at a smear test, it can understandably have a negative impact on how you feel about going for a test in the future.

While smear tests are not pleasant and can be uncomfortable or difficult for many reasons, the majority of women do not have a bad experience. When women do have bad experiences, it is sometimes a combination of several factors instead of just one thing, these reasons can be very personal and varied.

Smear tests are the best protection against cervical cancer so if you have had a bad experience which is stopping you from attending again, we hope the below might help to show that you aren’t alone and provide some tips or support.

So what causes a bad experience at a smear test?

“I was told to not go for cervical screening because I am gay. It made me feel like I wasn’t entitled to one and because this came from a healthcare professional I decided to no longer be screened.” Elizabeth

Sometimes, sadly women are giving the wrong information. Anybody with a cervix is eligible for a smear test. If you’ve been told something that you think is wrong or makes you feel uncomfortable, you are entitled to ask for a second opinion. Ask as many questions as you need and remember that we’re here for you; you can call our helpline or send a question to our medial panel at any time.

“At my first experience of cervical screening at 25, the nurse was the opposite of reassuring. I had some bleeding and she told me this could because of an STI which I knew wasn’t the case. I was very upset with being told this as I was in a steady long term relationship and it wasn’t what I expected to hear going for my smear. After this experience I simply didn’t go back again. I went for a routine check-up years later and had a smear as the nurse, who I was seeing and felt at ease with, said I was overdue. She said the bleeding I’d experienced can be a normal reaction to a smear. The smear that she took revealed that I had severe dyskariosis, and further tests showed that I had cervical cancer.” Samme

Sample-takers and nurses are highly trained and have taken hundreds of smears. They should do everything they can to make the process of having a smear as comfortable as possible for you. If this is not been the case for you, remember that you are fully in control of your test, and don’t have to do anything which makes you feel uncomfortable. You can always request a different sample taker at your next appointment.

In some areas you can also attend your screening at a sexual health clinic instead of at your GP surgery. Do also let your smear-taker know if you’re feeling nervous, or if there’s anything throughout the test which might trigger you to feel uncomfortable. Some women find it works to book a double appointment, as it gives them time to relax and feel more comfortable. If there’s something which makes you uncomfortable then talk to your GP or receptionist.

“Due to a short and upward curving cervix, I had always found it [having a smear test] a painful experience, so when I received my routine I put it off…before I knew it a year had passed.” Amanda

Some women do find screening painful, especially during or after the menopause. If you find screening painful or are concerned it might be, then read our blog which provides useful tips including listening to music as a distraction.

Past experiences can mean some women find going for a smear traumatic or even an impossible task, this includes experience of sexual violence. We’ve teamed up with charity My Body Back project, a charity who supports women who have experienced sexual violence, to produce a blog which looks at this topic especially.

If you have other health or gynaecological issues that affect your screening experience remind your sample taker to check your medical records before starting. They should automatically do this but it will enable you to have a discussion about any concerns before starting.

General points

Do remember you are fully in control of what happens during your smear test and don’t have to go through with anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. You can always request a different sample taker, request having a female sample taker and can take someone with you for support. Don’t forget you can talk to us, and talk to your nurse about how to make the experience better for you.

Lastly, if you haven’t had your smear yet, or you’ve delayed yours for a while, it’s worth saying that many women do go for their smear test every year, and the majority do have a good experience.

More information and support

Call our Helpline on 0808 802 8000. Our trained volunteers can offer guidance and support. Check our opening hours before ringing. 

If you have a medical question, you may want to use our Ask the Expert service.
You can also join our online forum to talk with others going through similar experiences.