The dreaded “cancer check”

I still have one more post to write about Vienna, then I want to tell you about my brother’s visit, but WordPress have changed something on the media library page and now uploading photos from my home computer is excruciatingly slow (even worse than before), so here’s something else for you…

Recently, I went for my second ever smear test in Germany – referred to here as the Krebsvorsorgeuntersuchung, or cancer prevention check. (No, I hadn’t been neglecting my health before last year… I just found it easier to get such things done in England!)

Tux the nurseIf you are a woman in Germany and you’ve ever been on an expat message board or even spoken to someone who moved to Germany from an anglophone country, you may have heard some horror stories about this cancer check. I know I had! From the scariness of the chair to being made to strip completely naked in a cold room… I had heard it all. So when I went for my first cancer check appointment last year, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it (not that anyone ever looks forward to a smear test, but you know what I mean). Now that I’ve had my second one, and it again turned out not to be so bad, I thought I would write a little report on my experiences. Obviously, I can only tell you about my experience with my doctor, and I can’t promise that you won’t end up with some weirdo who does make you strip off, but hopefully this will at least give you some idea πŸ™‚ Please feel free to close this window now if you’re not interested in reading about women’s sexual health… and the fun that is trying to pee in a small plastic beaker without the benefit of a penis!

So, we’ll start with the urine sample. When I’ve been for smear tests in England, I’ve been given a sample container in advance and told to fill it and bring it with me to the appointment. This may happen here, too, but at my particular Frauenarzt (=gynaecologist), you’re expected to provide your sample on arrival. Which sort of makes sense, I suppose. At least they know it’s fresh (eew, that sounds wrong!). Last time, I didn’t actually read the little sign on the wall. I knew you were supposed to try and catch mid-flow pee, but I didn’t actually feel like I had to go last time and was worried I wasn’t going to be aple to produce a full sample (sorry, sorry! This is so TMI), so I just put it all in there. This time, I noticed the sign (come to think of it, I’m not sure there even was a sign last time). It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, but it did make me laugh. The sign told me to let the first portion of urine go into the toilet, catch the next portion in the beaker and then let the final portion flow into the toilet again. In German, obviously,,, but the word used was die Portion, which I only know in the sense of an actual portion, as in “eine Portion Pommes, bitte” (a portion of chips pleased). I have no idea whether it’s normal to refer to your wee as coming in portions, but personally I found the idea hilarious πŸ˜€ Once you’ve finished peeing, you have to place the beaker (which you should have labelled with your name before peeing in it!) back in the little cupboard where the empty beakers are kept. There’s a second door at the other side of the cupboard for the doctor’s assistant to remove the little beaker.

Next step is getting your blood pressure taken. The doctor’s assistant does this, and at this point will also ask when your last period was. This information all gets written down on a little card for the doctor, then you get to go and sit in the waiting room. I was also given a form with a list of additional services (such as an ultrasound of the womb) that I could have if I paid for them. I chose to just go with the stuff that’s covered by my (public) medical insurance.

The chair is less scary looking in real life!
The chair is less scary looking in real life!

Once the doctor calls you in, the appointment starts with a (fully-clothed!) consultation at the desk. The doctor will read what the assistant wrote about your blood pressure, etc. and ask you whether you’ve been having any issues or problems that you want to talk about. If it’s your first time, they will presumably also explain what’s going to happen – I got the “this is what I’m going to do” talk in England. Consultation over, it’s time for the actual check. First you will be asked to remove the clothing from the lower half of your body. My doctor’s surgery has a tiny changing room for this. Once your bottom half is naked, it’s time for the chair. It looks scary, and it’s not exactly my favourite position to be in, but it not as uncomfortable as it looks! The first time I went, I mentioned that we don’t have such chairs in England and I felt a bit awkward. The doctor’s response was “Yeah, I can understand that but it makes it easier for us to get a proper sample the first time round than if we just do it with you lying on a bed”. Makes sense! And you’re really not in that position for long. I won’t go into detail about what happens in the chair because I’m sure most people reading this know how a smear test works…

The next step is the part that surprised me last year. If you’re 30 years old or above, after the actual smear test the doctor will ask you to put the clothes from your bottom half back on and take off the clothing on the upper part of your body. Then she does a breast examination – just by feeling and looking, but if you’re willing to pay there’s also the option to get an ultrasound of your breasts done. Technically, I was only 29 the first time I went, but I got my breast exam anyway… I was literally days away from my 30th birthday, so I suppose they thought why delay it for a year for the sake of a few days. As far as I’m aware, the smear test in the UK doesn’t involving having to bare your boobs, so that confused me a bit. But again, it goes by quickly and you just have to remind yourself that the doctors do this every single day. No embarrassment necessary!

Aaand that’s pretty much it. Once the breast exam is done, you put all your clothes back on and, if there’s nothing else you want to discuss, you’re good to go. I always ask for a new pill prescription before I leave to avoid having to come back another time. And if you don’t hear anything within two weeks, the test was fine and you’re all done until the following year. (Some doctors may contact you if the test was clear as well… mine doesn’t).

Phew… okay, that’s enough about my sexual health! Back to regularly scheduled Confuzzledom programming!

19 thoughts on “The dreaded “cancer check”

  1. Men have their own set of regular checks past a certain age that are also somewhat uncomfortable. Checking the prostate, for example, involves a finger up the butt.

    Btw, I noticed the changes to the media gallery as well- it’s made writing up new trip report posts very aggravating.

  2. Well, I went to the German Frauenarzt for a long time but I never heard of a “portion” of pee. That is indeed weird. πŸ™‚ I did not know they only start examining your breasts when you turn 30, my doctor did that every time. I wonder how your chair in England looks. πŸ™‚

    1. There is no chair in England… you lie on a bed and they give you a sheet to cover your knees. In Germany, my whole bottom half is exposed to anybody who wants to look!

      1. That’s interesting. I did not know. I am used to these horrible chairs. I guess they make it easier to see everything but they aren’t really very nice for the patient.

  3. Here’s another tip for anyone who wants it… I always find it most comfortable to wear a long skirt to those check-ups. That way you don’t have to walk back into the room semi-naked and can just hoik the skirt up as you sit on the chair; it provides a tiny bit of decency! πŸ˜‰ Also I find the chair way more comfortable than lying down – I think the angle is better somehow… Eeek, also getting into the realms of TMI! πŸ˜‰

    1. I don’t find the chair all that comfortable, but it gives them a better view (says my Frauenarzt).

      Whether wearing a long skirt helps depends on the doctor. Mine asks you to take skirts off, but you can wear a longer top to help you feel less exposed πŸ™‚

  4. That sounds exactly like what happens at my appointments. And, for the record, it’s pretty much the same with a pregnancy. My doctor checked down there several times and I had several ultrasounds, too, but the same basic method applied.

  5. Very interesting to hear how things differ from country to country. For example, here in the US, I don’t think I’ve ever even heard someone refer to it as just the ‘smear’ test. It’s always the Pap smear. Or just your ‘annual.’ Plus, as far as I know the breast exam is a given for a woman anytime she goes in for the Pap. Mammograms are typically recommended only for the 40+ crowd. This post did inspire me to think about writing a specific post on a related topic – we’ll see if I get around to that! πŸ™‚

      1. Do British women not get breast cancer?! I’ve two friends here who had it in their late 30s… Who does the pap smear test in the UK – a nurse or physician’s assistant? (Cultural differences – so interesting!)

      2. The practice nurse πŸ™‚ You get mammorgrams in England after a certain age, but I’m not sure what age. Before that I think you’re expected to check for yourself, but a doctor or the practice nurse will show you how if you ask.

        My step mum died of breast cancer, but hers was hereditary so they’d been looking out for it anyway.

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