How to Avoid Anxiety Associated with Cervical Screening Results Wait time
It can take weeks and even months for cervical screening test results to come in, resulting in many suffering emotional distress. So how do you cope during that time? What can you do to keep yourself calm and functioning?
The long wait times for cervical screening results have become nearly unbearable for many. Recently, it was reported that the Southern Trust of Northern Ireland uncovered the need to re-evaluate approximately 17,500 women's smear tests. As a consequence of extensive wait times, severe depression and anxiety in individuals is unfortunately prevalent.
During this waiting period, it’s common to feel a lack of control and uncertainty about the future. It’s incredibly important to understand, there is no right or wrong way to handle these emotions. But as with anything in life, knowledge is power. Understanding the process and all that's involved can help you stay in control and even experience moments of joy during the wait.
Waiting for cancer results of any kind is linked to negative psychological and physiological reactions, such as anxiety and stress. To compound the issues, many experience sleeping, eating and general activity challenges as well as mood swings. Uncertain, unexpected, and longer wait times only serve to worsen these symptoms. This is especially true for individuals waiting for health-related news or treatment such as a cervical cancer result. The potential consequences of delays can be severe. In general healthcare, patients waiting for diagnosis, surgery, or treatment experience heightened negative emotions, including anger, frustration, fear, stress, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, their self-esteem tends to decrease. Sadly, not much information is out there regarding how one can avoid these issues and keep their mental health at bay during the period between testing and results. We understand the importance of looking after your well-being during times of uncertainty, so here are some tips on what you can do.
Knowledge is Power
Understanding the process
Firstly, it is important to understand what the cervical screening process is for and why you’ve done the right thing by attending. You’re already one step ahead of future protection!
Cervical screening is usually painless and involves a healthcare professional taking some cells from the surface of your cervix using a small brush. The sample is sent to a lab for analysis. It could take approximately 2 weeks for the result. Cervical screenings are recommended for anyone with a cervix from the age of 24. After 25, a smear test once every three years is appropriate.
5 Tips for comfort
There are a few ways to feel more comfortable at your screening appointment such as requesting:
- a friend be present
- a doctor of a particular gender
- an earlier appointment
- a smaller speculum
- a post-menopausal prescription such as estrogen cream to maximize comfort
We’ve also produced a free guide as part of our new series that can help you further understand. The Preventionist’s Guide: Cervical Cancer Prevention drills down into the whys, hows and whats of cervical cancer screening. We even include a handy checklist for your screening appointment.
Protecting your mental health during wait times
When possible, have a conversation with your care team about the testing process, the expected timeline for results and how you prefer to receive information. This little bit of control can help alleviate some physical and emotional distress. But there are ways to cope such as:
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy- This is about acknowledging anxious thoughts and then shifting attention to something enjoyable.
- Breaking up the waiting time into manageable chunks using mindfulness. By focusing on one day, or even one hour or minute at a time, the wait becomes a little more bearable.
- Focusing on normal activities, like work, as a distraction from worry.
- Talking to a partner, family member, or close friend. This can also help those closest to you feel they are helping to carry the emotional burden.
- Seeking reliable information. It is best to wait for a diagnosis before seeking further information. Although facts about cervical cancer can help you regain a sense of control, it's important to ensure the information is reliable. Otherwise, you’ll exacerbate the already existing anxiety.
Results can take longer due to the involvement of a team of experts who carefully prepare and interpret pathology tests. Factors such as the need for special stains or additional tests, longer processing times for certain tissues, or the requirement for a larger sample can contribute to delays. It's important to remember that these delays do not necessarily indicate bad news. This is why it’s important to stay as calm as possible and deal with each piece of information as you receive it. Don’t anticipate the presence of cervical cancer, instead, focus on what you have control of today; the here and now. And enjoy each moment as they come.
If you find yourself in distress during this period and need someone to talk to, please do not hesitate to contact one of the following services. We want you to know you’re never alone in this journey.
Shout - Text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258
Samaritans - 116123
10zyme is developing a truly innovative and accessible at-home test and results kit. There will be no need to wait for the potential presence of cervical cancer. Instead, know your cervical health from the comfort of your own home.
We’re leading The Prevention Revolution and working to make cervical screening and results reliable, easy and timely. We intend to democratise women’s healthcare on a global scale-giving control back to anyone with a cervix. Follow us for news and updates on our social channels, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.