Do Your Pap Smear Today – It Can Save Your Life

If you’re a woman, you’ve likely undergone this routine (and mildly uncomfortable) procedure. But no matter how you feel about them, Pap smears play an important role in your health as a woman.
a Pap Smear

So what is the truth about pap smears? Everywhere we read, it says something different about how often we need to get a check-up with the gynecologist. And we hear, “. . . if you've had a hysterectomy you never need to have a pap again.”

What is a Pap smear?

A Pap smear, also called a Pap test, is a screening performed in your doctor’s office (typically by a gynecologist, but nurse practitioners and family doctors also perform them). A Pap smear tests for cervical cancer or any abnormalities in your cervix.

During the procedure, your doctor gently scrapes cells from your cervix to be examined. While these screenings can be a little uncomfortable and awkward, a Pap smear should never cause pain.

When Should You Get a Pap Smear?

The so-called guidelines suggest that no one needs a pap smear until age 18 – 21, regardless of the age of the first sexual experience. But, consider how prevalent HPV is, and how easily it is transferred to women during sex – and knowing it is the #1 cause of cervical, anal, and oral cancers.

There is also the worry of infertility that can be caused by STDs. When exams are encouraged at an early age, this can be minimized and treated, if necessary.
Pap smears may be discontinued after surgery for a total hysterectomy unless it was performed for cervical cancer or any type of pre-invasive diagnosis found on a pap smear. This includes high-risk HPV, uterine, ovarian, breast, bladder or anal cancer. Yearly paps and pelvic exams should be continued if you have ever had, or currently have, any of these cancers.

Having a compromised immune system for any reason – from diabetes, HIV, Lupus or other auto-immune disorders – can put you at risk for cancer and pre-invasive disease, even if you have never been diagnosed with it. It is so important to get yearly exams and not assume that you are not at risk just because you are too young, too old, not currently having sex, or because you have had a hysterectomy.

How do I prepare for a Pap smear?

To make the Pap smear as accurate as possible, it is recommended that for 2 days before the Pap smear you avoid:
  • Douching
  • Using tampons
  • Using vaginal creams, suppositories, medicines, vaginal deodorant sprays or powders
  • Having sex

How is a Pap smear done?

A doctor or nurse can do a Pap smear during a pelvic examination. It is a simple and quick test. While you lie on the examination table the doctor or nurse puts an instrument called a speculum into your vagina, opening it to see the cervix. Cells are gently wiped with a soft brush or spatula from around the tiny opening in the cervix. The sample is sent to a lab where it is examined under a microscope to see if any abnormal cells are present.

More things you should know about this simple, lifesaving screening.

1. Most women should have a Pap smear every 3 years.

Current guidelines recommend women should start getting routine Pap smears every three years beginning at age 21.

Some women may need more frequent screenings, especially those who have an increased risk for cervical cancer or infection, while some women over age 65 may be able to stop getting Pap smears altogether! Talk to your doctor to see what’s right for you.

2. Whether you’re sexually active or not, you still need a Pap smear.

Most cervical cancers are caused by an infection from the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted. However, not all cervical cancers stem from HPV, which means Pap smears are necessary whether you’re sexually active or not. 

3. Pap smears do not screen for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Pap smears test for any abnormal cell changes in your cervix, which could lead to or be cervical cancer. Pap smears do not test for HPV or other STDs, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. If you want to be tested for STDs, be sure to ask your doctor during your appointment. 

4. A Pap smear is different from a pelvic exam.

Yes, a Pap smear and pelvic exam are different — and yes, you need both!
  • A pelvic exam is typically performed at your annual well-woman visit with your gynecologist or women’s health provider. During this exam, your doctor will check your vulva, vagina, cervix, ovaries, uterus, rectum and pelvis for any abnormalities.
  • A Pap smear specifically tests for cervical cancer. If you’re due for one, you can get a Pap smear during your annual pelvic exam.

5. You may want to reschedule your Pap smear if you’re on your period.

Technically, you can get a Pap smear while on your period, but it may be better to reschedule to a time when you aren’t menstruating. Depending on how heavy your flow is, it may affect the results of your screening. If your flow is lighter, it may not be an issue. Talk with your doctor if you’re on your period, and he or she can help you decide what’s right for you.

Just due for a pelvic exam? There’s no reason to avoid it while on your period unless you’re having the pelvic exam because you’re experiencing abnormal discharge or another issue.

P.S. Your doctor is not grossed out by your period!

Final Word.

The most important thing is to put yourself first. We, as women, can easily ignore our own needs and health as we take care of our families. Let me say this, it's not worth it, because you deserve to be healthy and feel good. Most cancers, if caught early, are curable and never advance to the point of even needing drastic treatment like chemotherapy or radiation. You and your family deserve to have you happy and healthy.

Get a Pap smear today

Because symptoms of cervical cancer can be mistaken for other common conditions, it’s crucial to get regular Pap smears to detect it as early as possible. It just might save your life.

Remind your mom, sisters, friends – every woman in your life – today! Our women’s health team is standing by, ready to help you live a long, healthy life.
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