I was diagnosed with High-Risk HPV when I was 19 years old.
I’d been experiencing bleeding after sex for around 4 months and after being dismissed by the NHS as “hormonal”- my parents paid for me to have a private smear test done.
When I received the results I was told I was carrying two high strain types of HPV- numbers 45 and 51.
Two little numbers that had completely changed my life.
And yep- to me, that sounded fucking terrifying.
I had been given the HPV vaccine at school, so in my mind- it was never a possibility that I had considered I would be coming across.
I had been careful, I had a long-term boyfriend… HPV wasn’t something that happened to me, I had thought.
Hearing from a doctor that you have abnormal cells growing on your cervix and that even though 80% of the population is carrying the virus- it didn’t help in my anxiety and my panic.
I immediately envisaged cervical cancer in my future- and it had never been something that I’d learnt about or had any understanding of at school.
But that’s why I want to talk about it.
I want to chat about smears, HPV, treatments, what’s normal, what isn’t…
I put a lot of this experience down to my health anxiety that I still combat today- and I so wish that there’d been more people talking about it.
So here is my quick-guide to understanding the virus, the treatment and the steps that you need to take.
So- what actually is HPV?
(I am definitely not a doctor, so the information I have collected here is from NHS England.)
”Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name for a group of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body.
There are more than 100 types of HPV. Around 30 types of HPV infection can affect the genital area.
Genital HPV infections are common and highly contagious. They are spread during sexual intercourse and skin-to-skin contact of the genital areas.”
So basically, it’s a ‘sexually transmitted’ virus. It’s also THE MOST COMMONLY TRANSMITTED.
To be honest, if you’re reading this and you’ve never had a smear (and you’ve had sexual contact) chances are, you have it too.
80% of people on the planet are wondering around harmlessly with it- as often it causes no side-effects and often will solve itself and just go away.
Some of the types can give you warts. Other types (like the ones I had picked up) can lead to changes on your cervix and lead to cervical cancer.
Why I went for a smear
I wouldn’t have been called to an NHS smear until I was 25 years old.
However, I had been experiencing bleeding- for no known reason.
There’s also a family history of cervical abnormalities and pre-cancerous cells, so I was keen to get it checked out ASAP.
What does the vaccine do?
The HPV vaccine was introduced whilst I was at school and protects against high-risk strains 16 and 18.
Unfortunately- there are around 100 strains of the virus so it didn’t help me out in the long run.
However, if you’ve never had it I would recommend you take the measures to protect yourself as best you can.
Does a smear test hurt?
If you’re a woman in the UK you’ll be invited for a cervical screening every three years- and your first one will be at 25.
It can be carried out at a GP clinic or sexual health clinic.
Basically- you’ll be asked to take your clothes off from the waist down, make yourself comfortable and the doctor will insert a speculum.
This feels weird I won’t lie.
It’s like heavy pressure, it’s uncomfortable for sure- but it isn’t painful.
If it is- then ask them to stop. You could be tense, but take some deep breaths- it will be over before you know it.
Then the doctor will collect some cells using a small brush from the cells of the cervix. This feels like period cramps, that’s the only thing I can compare it too. It’s not pleasant but it isn’t the worst feeling you’ll ever experience.
These samples will be sent off and checked for abnormalities.
Afterwards? You’ll probably bleed so make sure to take a pad with you. I always feel faint and feel sick- so I try and give myself a sugar kick. I also always go with my mum for moral support!
My LEEP surgery
Unfortunately, once I had been diagnosed with my high-risk strains, they weren’t going away after a year.
As a result of this, I had them surgically removed when I was 21.
LEEP is a type of treatment that prevents cervical cancer. It removes abnormal cells from your cervix using an electrical tool and takes around 10 minutes.
They do use a numbing medicine on the area, but the cramping sensations were REALLY horrible.
It was more the shock factor for me, but I’ve heard it’s comparable to contractions… so there goes me wanting a baby!
Fortunately for me, this surgery was effective at removing the cells- and I had a clear pap smear the next time I went back.
I was VERY lucky that my parents were able to afford to get me some private treatment. There are a lot of young people who are ignored by their GPs and dismissed- and also a lot of people who don’t even consider their cervical health and avoid their smears. Please- make use of this fabulous service you get, and attend your appointments.
It could save your life.
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