I Had Abnormal Cells on My Pap Smear—Here’s What Happened Next

I put off my pap smear for a while, partly because I’m squeamish and partly because procrastination is a life choice for me. I’m lucky to be based in the UK where we get free, amazing healthcare from the NHS, so after months of pestering from friends, I finally took the plunge and booked myself in.

  1. The test itself was totally fine. I was off sick from work with flu that day, and as you can imagine, undertaking a pretty invasive procedure wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. But I had already put it off for so long, so I decided to drag myself out of bed and into the doctor’s office. It ended up being no big deal.
  2. I barely felt anything and it was over quickly. I’d been warned by friends that the test was uncomfortable and that it felt like a very brief period cramp. Maybe I have less sensitive nerve endings, or maybe I was so out of it from the flu meds—either way, I simply didn’t feel a thing and it was over before I knew it!
  3. I was told I would receive a letter within two weeks. In this time, my doctor’s office even called me up to check if I had received anything (nice to know someone is looking out for me). Additionally, I realized that the nurse who did my smear is actually the same woman I walk past, and occasionally make eye contact with, on the street every day on my way to work. That’s fun.
  4. My letter came and it was bad news. I had abnormal cells on my cervix. They were of a low grade, but any abnormalities can progress into cancer if not treated. You see the word “cancer” and immediately assume the worst. Luckily, one of my very good friends had been through this whole process a year previously and was able to reassure me that it was all probably going to be fine.
  5. I had to go to the hospital for a colposcopy. A colposcopy is where a doctor or nurse inspects the abnormal cells on the cervix with a microscope and decides what level they are, and therefore what treatment to proceed with. This could involve sending off a biopsy to a lab, and then depending on the results, a small procedure to remove the cells. Gulp. I was super nervous in the waiting room before I went in, but I’d bought myself a little cake as a treat for afterward because food is how I reward myself.
  6. The nurse was absolutely amazing. She was super clear about what was going to happen and talked me through what she was doing from start to finish. I was asked whether I minded having a (male) medical student in the room observing the procedure, which I happily agreed to. It didn’t bother me at all having him there, but it did amuse me when she shouted “AT THE HEAD!” to indicate exactly where he should stand while I lay vulnerable with my legs in the stirrups.
  7. I wasn’t expecting the screen. I was aware they would use a microscope, but I wasn’t expecting to see my cervix displayed on a huge screen next to my head! This, of course, was disconcerting; I can’t think of any other situation in life where this would happen, but I guess it was sort of interesting, if not a little gross.
  8. The nurse applied several solutions that are designed to highlight the abnormal cells. This involved a bit of poking that was a little uncomfortable but didn’t last very long. To my delight, she informed me that the cells were so minimal that I didn’t need to have a biopsy taken—phew!
  9. The whole procedure lasted around five minutes. Afterward, she told me that as there was no need for a biopsy or further procedure at this stage, all I needed to do was go back in nine months’ time for another check-up.
  10. Clearly this was a good result, but my experience is common. An estimated 80% of people in the USA contract HPV at some point in their lives, and although a very, very small amount do progress onto cancer, the vast majority just goes away on its own!
  11. A pap smear and the colposcopy are nothing to be scared of. I appreciate all women are different and of course some experiences are worse than others, but it’s such a minimal procedure in comparison to the (rare) worst case scenario. I would advise all women putting it off to go and book it now—trust me, it’s worth it for peace of mind!
Louise Brooks is a writer based in London, UK. When not lying around and questioning her life decisions, she writes about all things funny for her blog www.humourite.com