Pap smears are not something any of us look forward to, but they are very important for cervical cancer screening. Here's what your OBGYN wants you to know about this appointment:
What doctors and nurses want you to know
1. Pap smears aren't just for preventative cervical cancer screenings.
According to Dr. Himali Maniar of Nisha Women's Hospital & IVF centre, pap smears are "an important part of women’s preventive health care and can help catch the disease early when it is most treatable."
During this appointment, your OBGYN or nurse practitioner will also do breast exams and other skin cancer screenings.
2. Pap smear is the old name.
Firstly, can we all agree the name pap smear makes you think it's going to be like a swab or something. Unlike the name suggests, it's more of a scraping or biopsy.
Now the real meaning behind the name, According to Dr. Kimberly Fallon of Holy Name Medical Center, "came about because we used to actually "smear" cells from a woman's cervix onto a glass slide that was looked at under the microscope."
Today, it's more commonly known as a pap test.
3. Pap smears test for cervical cancer not STDs.
A pap smear tests for precancerous and cancerous cervical cells not STDs. Board certified Midwife, Nurse, and FemGevity Founder Kristin Mallon states, "these [tests] are not routinely done" unless you ask specifically.
4. You don't need one annually.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), women aged 21-29 only need to have a pap test once every 3 years.
5. You don't need a pap smear until you are 21.
In the past, pap smears were recommended for women 18 and older, but now ACOG has changed these guidelines for women to wait until they are 21.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, especially if you or your doctor suspect there is a problem.
6. You can still have a pap smear done if you are on your period.
Although very uncomfortable, speaking from experience, you can have a pap smear done when you are on your period.
Whenever possible though, the Mayo Clinic suggests you should "try not to schedule a Pap smear during your menstrual period".
7. You can have a pap smear done while you are pregnant.
Again, very uncomfortable, but pap smears can also be done when you are pregnant.
The National Instititues of Health explain that the "Pap smear test is safely done during pregnancy" regardless of how far along you are.
8. It all looks the same down there.
Yes, this was told to me by my nurse practitioner at my last pap smear and pelvic exam. Awkward, but honest nonetheless.
9. You may bleed.
The Cleveland clinic states that some women "may experience light spotting" after their pap test, but it shouldn't last long.
Pap Smear FAQ
Yes, showering is okay before a pap smear, but avoid a bath.
Whatever you are comfortable with, but you don't have to shave unless you want to.
It's best to get one done if you are 21 or older because it's a preventative measure for cervical cancer.