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Preparing For A Pap Smear: Get Ready With Grace

Pap smears, have you heard of them? Getting ready for a pap smear can be a little daunting. The whole idea of having your doctor insert something in your vagina can seem scary and uncomfortable. Even if you are sexually active, the test might be a little scary all the same and for good reason. Since we know how curious you might be about the topic, we have compiled this blog post to help you know what to expect.




First of all, what’s a pap smear?

A Pap smear (also called a Pap test) screens for cervical cancer. It checks for abnormal cells in the cervix that are cancerous or have the potential to become cancerous. What happens is your healthcare provider takes cells from your cervix to examine under a microscope for signs of cancer. A Pap smear may also detect certain inflammation and infection.


Who needs a pap smear?

Generally, it is recommended that women between 21-65 years should be screened. Women aged 30 and older can consider Pap testing every five years if the procedure is combined with testing for Human papillomavirus(HPV) they might consider HPV testing instead of the Pap test. HPV is a virus that causes warts and increases the chance of cervical cancer. However, regardless of age, or sexual activity you should still get your regular pap smears because the HPV virus can be dormant for years and then suddenly become active.


How often do I need a pap smear?

If you are wondering how frequent you’ll need to be screened here’s a guide:

Age

Pap smear frequency

Less than 21 years

none needed

21 -29 years

every 3 years

30 - 65 years

every 3 years or an HPV test every 5 years or a Pap test and HPV test together every 5 years

65 years and older

​may no longer need Pap smear tests; talk to your doctor to determine your needs


How can I prepare for a pap smear?

There are a number of things that you could do to prepare and steps you could take to make sure your screening is as comfortable as possible.

First of all, when scheduling your pap smear, try not to schedule your appointment during your period. If it’s unavoidable, that’s okay, but a period-free day is best, as it makes the exam easier for both you and your doctor. Also try to avoid having sexual intercourse, douching, or using spermicidal products the day before your test because these may interfere with your results.


On the actual day of the appointment, it is advised that you wear easily removable clothing to your appointment. Perhaps a dress or loose-fit pants. Should you be worried about your grooming down there aka your pubic hair, don’t worry! Your doctor has most likely seen it all. Speaking of pubic hair, you can learn more about it here.


What to expect during a pap smear?

Once at your doctor’s office it is only natural to feel a little nervous. Aside from the thought of it being uncomfortable, it’s also comforting to know the process is extremely quick and takes only a few minutes! Here’s what happens:

  1. After undressing, your doctor will instruct you to lay on your back and put your feet up on the examination tables.

  2. Your doctor will then prepare and insert the speculum, which is an instrument that holds your vaginal walls apart so the cervix is seeable and reachable for your doctor. Will it hurt? Not at all. Doctors use lube to ensure that the speculum will slide into place easily and as gently as possible, and when not opened, the speculum is a bit bigger than a tampon but smaller than the average penis, so if you are sexually active or use tampons, it won’t be an entirely new sensation. After insertion, there will be a slight pressure in that area, but don’t stop relaxing it gets better.

  3. An instrument called a spatula (a small, flat scraping device) or a brush with soft bristles will be used by your doctor to take samples of your cervical cells from the cervix’s walls. It doesn’t hurt, but it will be a little uncomfortable.

  4. After the samples are collected and transferred and the speculum is removed, that’s it! Your doctor will give you a chance to clean up and get dressed again before your appointment resumes


What happens after?

Good job, you got through your pap smear test! But it doesn’t stop there depending on your age you’ll need to do the test again after a certain period. Feel free to go about your day as normal after your pap smear. If you experience any pain (which is unlikely) reach out to your doctor. After the test, the samples are transferred to a laboratory where they're examined under a microscope to look for characteristics in the cells that indicate infection, cancer or a precancerous condition. Ask your doctor about when you can expect the results of your test.


In summary

Pap smears can be uncomfortable but the process is quite fast. They are used for screening for cervical cancer or other infections and inflammations. Although it might be a little scary going for the test, by following the few tips shared you are one step closer to ensuring you have a more comfortable experience. Should there be anything off after your test, seek your doctor’s attention immediately.


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