After a conversation about cervical screening we found there was a big difference between what to expect in Germany (blue text) and what to expect in the UK (black text). As it’s something most young girls and women will be wondering about, we thought we’d share our experiences with you so you have an idea what to expect respectively in either country.
I remember being shocked when a good friend of mine told me that she had not yet seen a Gynecologist (ever) we were both 27 at the time. So I had been going for 12 years twice a year! and she had not been at all. That does not mean one of us is healthier just I got lots more chats out about being aware about my health and how to spot signs or prevent possible complications.
When, why and how often will you need a cervical screening?
A few years ago I came home from work to find that scary letter waiting for me, my GP was inviting me to my first ever cervical screening. I was getting close to my 25th birthday, the age you get welcomed to the secret screening club. I knew I needed to book the appointment but I really didn’t want to and it took me a couple of weeks to build up the courage to call and book my slot. The earliest being in three weeks time. Living in London - the average wait for a GP appointment seems to be about two weeks. It may be quicker in other areas of the country though.
In Germany it's very common to see your Gynecologist for the first time around the age of 15 maybe even a bit earlier. It's more the parents who will make you go, with regards to HPV Vaccination or a general checkup to see if everything is ok. I would say usually girls in Germany will go sometime with the start of their period. Drs here will also answer a lot of questions that kids might not want to talk to their parents about. A lot of girls will also go to get the Pill - in Germany it's on prescription so you can only get it if you have seen a doctor.
For those of you who don’t know a cervical screening (also called a smear or pap test) is a small test to check the cells of your cervix. Detecting and removing abnormal cervical cells can prevent you from getting cervical cancer so it’s a really important thing to do no matter what age you are. Some awareness was brought to this a few years ago when Jade Goody from Big Brother sadly lost her life at age 27 to cervical cancer.
A little research on the NHS website will show you that between age 25 & 49 you will be called by your GP every 3 years, so make sure you’re registered. Between age 50 & 64 you’ll be invited every five years and only ladies with abnormal tests and who haven’t been screened since age 50 get to go after age 65.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women under the age of 35. About 3000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK and the screening process can prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers from developing. Shockingly 22% of women don’t attend a screening when they’ve been invited.
How did you feel before going for the first time?
When the day finally arrived after my three week wait I felt quite nervous and couldn’t stop thinking about what was going to happen later on that day. The only thing I could do was to try and distract myself with work and tea. I had done some research in preparation for what to expect. I’d watched some youtube videos (you can do that but we wouldn’t recommend it) which left me feeling pretty odd about the whole thing. I wore a dress and tights to make the clothes removal process pain free. I didn’t know what was polite to do with the hair down there, turns out it doesn’t matter because they see so many ladies, so I just gave it a little tidy. I messaged my best friend in the lead up to the moment and she was very assuring. I made plans to go and pick up a dessert for after as a little reward and something to look forward. It might sound like a lot of worrying but no one other than my boyfriend has been privy to my material in adult life so the idea of someone else looking at my lady parts was a very strange concept.
I was also quite nervous. I had spoken with a couple of friends about it and they assured me that nothing hurts - and trust me nothing hurts its a little uncomfortable but I would not say it hurts. Try to take a breath out and relax then I find I can hardly feel it. It's just a bit strange getting on that chair but once you managed that it's not a big deal at all, as described below.
What should you expect? What happens during the procedure?
During the test you’ll be asked to take of your pants and lie back with your legs apart. You’ll be given some privacy to do this despite what’s to come. Once you’re ready the nurse will lube up a speculum and place it in your vagina, this makes it easy for them to swab some cells from around the cervix using a soft brush and then you’re done. Pants on, time to go and for me it was time to get my dessert.
One thing I didn’t expect was the speed the test would be done in. I waiting to see the nurse for longer than the actual test, which must have been about 10 minutes from walking into the room to walking out. That was it. It was awkward, it felt weird but I didn’t know what I had been all sweaty palmed and nervous about.
How was it once you’d been?
I still felt uncomfortable once I’d left, but the discomfort didn’t last very long. The whole process was over with a three year wait ahead of me till the next one. I’m sure I’ll be sweaty palmed for that but I know what to expect now. You have a two week wait to hear the results of the test so I put that in my diary and waited.
I felt somewhat relieved. The next visits were definitely a lot easier. Knowing what to expect. In Germany the doctor will call you with your results and arrange the next appointment in about 6month time as girls usually go twice a year here.
The other thing I can say is it definitely only feels wired for YOU the doctor or nurse will have done this a million times and has seen plenty of 'down there' so the more chilled you can be about it the better.
Does it hurt?
For me it didn’t hurt, it just felt a little uncomfortable which I don’t think you can help. It’s best to try and relax as this will make the process easier and reduce any glimmers of pain that could be had.
What should you do if you’re feeling nervous?
I would recommend the reward to look forward to afterward. It can act as a distraction as well as giving you something positive after the experience. I would also talk to your nurse about how you’re feeling, they should be able to help you relax.
Also you will have a wealth of experience to share with your friends, there is always one who has not been yet and needs a little pep talk.
What else helps prevent cervical cancer in the UK?
In the UK all girls aged 12 to 13 are offered the HPV vaccine. There are many types of HPV which cause all sorts of things but being vaccinated is pretty important because in 99% of cases, cervical cancer happens after infection with high-risk types of HPV, as some can cause the abnormal tissue growth and cell changes in the cervix that cause cancer, typically there aren’t other symptoms. The vaccine girls are given in the UK helps to protect against two types of HPV that between them cause 70% of cervical cancers in the UK, as well offering protection again genital warts. Nice. The vaccine should protect you for around ten years, though experts expect it to protect you for longer.
I had a HPV Vaccine when it just came out, it was very controversial at the time where now it's simply not a big deal and recommended. The guy who invented it even got the Nobel price for it. So I guess it saves lots of lives and it is a big deal.
My Gynecologists, and here in Germany we always see a Doctor (the system is just a little different) advised me on getting the vaccine and I discussed it with my parents and they also said it would be a good idea. I went back and had it at the next checkup. In Germany you go twice a year and the doctor will also do a check-up of your breasts for lumps and a ultrasound and take your blood. As you can see the checkup in germany is a lot more elaborate and might take about 30 min at the doctors.
Where can I find out more?
In Germany you always see a Gynecologists. You can decide if you'd rather see a woman or a man. Either way there are lots of great ones out there, simply be brave enough to make an appointment. You can even arrange for the first appointment to be just a chat and not straight away a screening.