You’ve heard of it. You scheduled it. You look forward to it every couple years.
THE PAP SMEAR
You know it’s something you need to do, but do you know why? We’re here to dive into Pap Smear 101 so that you can appreciate all that this procedure has to offer for your health.
WHAT IS A PAP SMEAR?
Also known as a Pap test, the Pap smear is when your gynecologist collects cells from your cervix to test for cervical cancer. This is done typically every three years now (although your doctor may suggest more often), starting at age 21.
This test is done by inserting a swab into the vagina during a pelvic exam at the gynecologist’s office, and that swab is then placed in a dish to check the cells collected later on.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO GET A PAP SMEAR?
Like we said, the Pap smear is done to check the cervix for abnormal cells that could indicate cervical cancer. The frequency at which this is performed depends on your personal risk factors, which you should discuss with your doctor. These include your age, your medical history, your family history, and your immune system status.
Essentially, doctors recommend checking every three years because this time frame allows them to catch early cases of cervical cancer - the earlier these abnormal cells are identified, the better the prognosis will be for the patient.
WHAT TO EXPECT DURING A PAP SMEAR?
Pap smears will typically occur during your annual pelvic exam at the gynecologist’s office so that you won’t need to make more than one appointment.
Your doctor will insert the speculum, a metal clamping tool, into the vagina to ensure they can examine the cervix. From there, they will use a swab or a spatula to “scrape” some cells from your cervix (it sounds worse than it is - while it might feel tender, this doesn’t hurt you!) and then save those cervical cells in a petri dish.
From there, the cells will be sent to a lab to be examined for abnormalities, and your doctor will follow up with you if there is anything they have concern about. After that you’re all good for another three years!
HOW TO PREPARE FOR A PAP SMEAR
Pap smears happen during your annual gynecological exam, so you’ll prepare in the same way - that is, there isn’t much preparation required!
Wash up the same as you usually do; no need to wash inside your vagina or to douche at all (both of which are always unnecessary and are actually bad for your vaginal health). The only thing to keep in mind is that you should try not to schedule your exam around your period - if you are menstruating, this could impact the quality of the cell sample taken during the smear. That being said, it’s better to get the Pap smear whilst on your period than not at all, so don’t stress too much if there’s nothing to be done.
All in all, the Pap smear takes very little time or effort on your part, and it offers a lot of peace of mind in the way of making sure your cervix is nice and healthy! Be sure to talk to your doctor if you are concerned about the frequency at which you are getting a Pap smear - otherwise, just sit back and wait for your next appointment!