Last month I had a cervical biopsy while hungover, which I wouldn’t recommend (the hangover part) and was pretty terrified about (the biopsy part).
I am a person who recently googled "Is there a sort of cough that means you have cancer" after coughing once, and I suspect many of you are similarly nervy when it comes to medical stuff. So I thought I’d live-blog the whole shebang so everyone can get a proper idea of what actually goes on, rather than relying on terrifying Google hearsay. (Oh, my cough is fine, thanks.)
It all came about after an abnormal smear test last year. While the procedure went well, the results did not. About one in 20 women will get an abnormal smear test (me) but only one in 2,000 abnormal results are potentially cancerous (also me). See, there are 'low grade' abnormalities of your cervical cells and 'high grade' abnormalities. While 'low grade' is the one you want, 'high grade' can often be sorted out super easily, so don’t burst into tears and announce your imminent demise just yet.
What you probably have is HPV. Which, as avid Girls fans will know, stands for human papillomavirus, a really common sexually transmitted infection that nearly 90% of sexually active people will come into contact with. Sometimes it presents as genital warts (hot). Sometimes it has absolutely no symptoms. Sometimes it’ll cause an abnormal smear test. The odds are in your cervix’s favour, friend.
In terms of what actually happens if you get an abnormal smear test, firstly you’ll go in for a colposcopy, which is just an opportunity for a consultant to have a proper good look at your cervix – I live-blogged mine here, because nothing is sacred. When the NHS told me to come back a year later for a check-up and possible biopsy, I was so chilled. I had a whole year. I didn’t actually know what a biopsy was. Then when I got summoned and they explained it was cutting some of the abnormal cells off my cervix for further testing, I hyperventilated and started googling "cervical biopsy horror stories".
But what does a cervical biopsy feel like? Legit painful or NBD? While I can’t speak for all cervixes, here’s what happened during mine, in painstaking detail.
11.10am: My appointment time! I’m so fine! That rhymes! Ralph Fiennes! (I’m freaking out. My boyfriend insisted on coming with me when he asked "How are you feeling about tomorrow?" and I made a noise like a blender.)
11.30am: The NHS are trying really hard against all the odds, so expect your appointment to be a bit late. They’ve got a lot of vaginas to look up, and very little funding.
11.33am: A female consultant (I’ve never seen a man in the colposcopy department, but do ask for a woman if you want one, just in case!) looks at my medical history and tells me to get changed behind a curtain. I meet her friendly assistant, who hands me a blanket.
11.35am: I put my legs up in stirrups which are so absurdly high and wide I feel like I might as well be fully nude. Nothing prepares you for the stirrups. The nice consultant woman goes between them and gets out a telescope. (Just kidding but IMAGINE.) She has a look and it’s all so embarrassing that I apologise roughly six or seven times; she points out that it’s her job. I say: "I’m sorry, I haven’t had a bikini wax." She says: "Oh save that for a holiday." I confide that I’m scared about a biopsy and she replies: "You probably won’t need one!" I think we’re getting on quite well. Might invite her on holiday.
11.36am: She pops a speculum inside, which I know is the bit that freaks a lot of people out. Here’s the truth: it feels like a big cold robot dick and isn’t painful unless you’re tense, so I’d recommend trying to think back to all the stuff that’s been up you and how it compares to the robot dick. That usually takes my mind off things. If you’ve never entertained any large guests, then remember that your vaginal tunnel is supposed to accommodate a baby’s head. This robot dick is NOTHING! Oh and don’t laugh. My friend once laughed and shot the speculum out at the doctor.
11.37am: The consultant does a smear test. For anybody who hasn’t had a smear test, it’s somebody gently poking your cervix through the robot dick and before my first one I read on Mumsnet that it’s really uncomfortable. I have never felt a thing during any of mine so if you’re putting it off because of fear, don’t! Go get a smear!
11.38am: She performs a colposcopy (read all about what this is like here! Then come back for the hot biopsy content!). I lie back and chill out, an old colposcopy pro. A colposcopian, if you will. Last time there were some pictures of palm trees on the ceiling to calm patients down, this time there are smiling dolphins and fish. "Count the orange fish," the assistant says. "Lots of people find that helpful." I smile politely but am clearly above that sort of thing.
11.40am: Am told I need a biopsy and begin counting orange fish with the concentration of a mad fisherwoman. A mad fisherwoman nude from the waist down. I won’t ruin how many fish there are because you might enjoy the challenge at some point but let’s just say it’s not NOT 83.
11.41am: The consultant explains the procedure; it starts with an anaesthetic injection and before it’s even happened I, a woman who once put a cigarette out on her own tongue for a dare (don’t do this), promptly start crying. Not SOBBING, you understand, just some delicate leaking. The assistant assures me it’s "just a little scratch and then you shouldn’t feel anything" and then asks if I’m working for the rest of the day. While I’m answering ("Yes I’ll be writing about this very experience! Are you cool with me referring to you as 'the assistant'? Are you guys on Insta?"), I feel something I can’t quite put my finger on and pause, waiting for the pain to build. But it doesn’t. The "something I can’t quite put my finger on" was the entire injection. Guys, it’s fine, and I’m hugely embarrassed at myself.
11.42am: Two biopsies apparently occur and I can’t feel anything. Not even any pressure. Just the robot dick. If anything, I could live like this. If it didn't involve having my legs up in the air with a woman staring at my vagina. Am brought back down to earth with a thud at the news that there are 62 fish. Probably should book an eye test after this.
11.43am: If I’m honest, the speculum/robot dick starts to feel uncomfortable. Not in a painful way, but in a thanks-for-stopping-by-can-you-get-out-of-me-now way. I’m starting to consider laughing and shooting it out myself.
11.45am: It’s over. Tights back on and I want a lollipop. If the results are clear, then I’ll be discharged. If there’s further investigation to be done, then I guess I’ll be live-blogging it for you fine folk. Hey, at least it’s not an Instagram story.
It’s worth adding that after the appointment, when the anaesthetic wears off, you might feel a bit tender and some weird brown dye could leak out of you, so make sure you wear old knickers or a sanitary pad. I felt a bit like I was having a heavy period for the next few days, and my lower tummy was a bit sore. This is also possibly because I was hungover. Either way, they advise not to have sex for a couple of days but didn’t tell me that I’d bleed on and off for the next seven days – so I’m telling you. You might bleed! And not feel like having wild sex for a week or so after!
If the results show any issues, I'll have to get more tests and treatments depending on the cells - which could include getting them lasered off like it's The Future or freezing them with cryotherapy. There's something called a 'cone biopsy' which involves cutting a cone shape out of your cervix which I had to stop reading about because I started to get very hot. And not in a good way.
Excitingly, the amount of cells removed in the biopsy can often be enough (this is obviously what I'm hoping for) but if not, at least you all know I'll be reporting all to you about the next step from the front line. Or should I say, the front bottom line (did everyone else call their vagina a 'front bottom' as a child? No?).
All in all though, my cervical biopsy was an absolutely lovely experience and a great day out for all the family. Happy biopsying!