How to Do a Pap Smear
A pap smear is a simple, quick, and relatively painless screening test, used to detect cancerous or pre-cancerous cells in the cervix. Getting regular pap screens is essential for the early detection and treatment of cervical cancer. To understand how to prepare for a pap smear and learn more about what the process involves, start with Step 1 below.
Preparing for the Pap Smear
Make sure your appointment won't coincide with your period.When scheduling an appointment for a pap smear, try to time it so it doesn't overlap with your next period. Blood from your period can interfere with the results of the pap smear, making it less accurate.
- However, if you experience any unexpected bleeding or spotting right before the appointment, there is no need to cancel the appointment.
- The gynecologist will assess the amount of blood and determine whether the pap smear is worth doing or if you will need to reschedule for another day.
Avoid doing anything that will interfere with the results of the pap smear.In the 24 to 48 hours before the pap smear, it is important to avoid engaging in any activities or putting anything on or around the vagina that could interfere with the test results. Avoid the following:
- Having intercourse
- Taking a bath
- Using a tampon
- Douching (douching should never be done)
- Applying vaginal creams or lotions
Remember to empty your bladder before you go to your appointment.The pap smear will involve having an instrument inserted into your vagina and possibly having the doctor press down on your lower abdomen. Therefore it is a good idea to avoid drinking too much fluid before the appointment and to make sure that you empty your bladder.
Be prepared to undress from the waist down.Before the pap smear can be performed, you will need to undress from the waist down.
- You may be given a hospital gown to wear for the duration of the procedure, or you may simply be asked to remove any clothing from your lower half.
- Normally, you will be given a sheet or towel to place over your mid-section and thighs so you don't feel completely exposed.
Knowing What to Expect
Lie on the examination table and place your feet in the stirrups.In order for the doctor to perform the exam, you will need to lie on the examination table and place your feet in the metal stirrups.
- The stirrups will keep your legs spread and your knees flexed, so the doctor will have a clear view of your vagina throughout the procedure.
- If you are unsure how to get your feet in the stirrups, ask the doctor and they will be happy to guide them into place.
Expect the doctor to do a physical examination first.Before the actual pap smear begins, the doctor will do a physical examination of your vulva (the outer lips of the vagina).
- This is done to check for HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually transmitted disease which is the most common cause of abnormal pap smear results.
- Symptoms of HPV include genital warts and post-coital bleeding. If left untreated, HPV can lead to cervical cancer.
Take deep breathes and try to relax.Before and during the pap smear, the doctor will ask you to concentrate on taking deep breaths.
- Focusing on your breathing helps to relax the stomach, leg and vaginal muscles, allowing the doctor to insert the speculum more easily.
- If this is your first pap smear, focusing on your breathing will also help you to remain calm and feel less nervous before and during the exam.
Allow the doctor to place a lubricated speculum inside your vagina.Once the physical exam is complete, the doctor will gently insert a lubricated speculum into the vagina.
- A speculum is a metal or plastic device which opens up the walls of the vagina, which allows the doctor to exam the cervix for any abnormalities.
- Once the speculum is in place, the doctor will use a small mascara-like brush (called a cytobrush) to take samples from the walls of the cervix.
Prepare for a certain amount of discomfort during the procedure.As the speculum expands and the samples are taken from the cervix, some women will experience a certain level of discomfort, similar to menstrual cramps. Other women will experience no discomfort at all.
- Following the procedure, you may experience slight bleeding or spotting, but this is completely normal and will quickly subside.
Watch the doctor place the cell samples onto a glass slide.After the doctor collects the cell samples from the walls of the cervix, he/she will place the samples onto a glass slide, which is then placed inside a protective blue case.
- This entire procedure only takes three to five minutes. Once the doctor has finished collecting the samples, they will remove the speculum and you will be able to take your feet out of the stirrups and begin to get dressed.
- The cell samples will be sent to the lab for testing. You will be notified about the results as soon as they are ready.
Understanding Pap Smears
Learn why the pap smear is necessary.The pap smear is a screening test — this means that a large number of healthy people are tested in order to identify a small number of people with abnormal cells. The samples collected during a pap smear are examined under a microscope to look for pre-malignant (pre-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) cells.
- The pap smear is an easy, effective wear to detect early signs of cervical cancer. This is important, as cervical cancer can be completely cured with a simple treatment to the cervix if it is caught early enough.
- Later stages of cervical cancer require more involved treatment, such as hysterectomy and radiotherapy. Although there has been news of promising research into a vaccine against HPV, the main approach to this type of cancer is early diagnosis and treatment.
Understand who needs to receive a pap smear.Pap smears are recommended for every woman, beginning at the age of 21. If the results of your first pap screen are normal and HPV is negative, you are considered low risk and you will only need to return for a pap smear once every 3 years.
- Women over the age of 40 are most at risk for developing cervical cancer, so if your are above 40 and you have never had a pap screen, it is highly recommended that you make an appointment as soon as possible.
- Keep in mind that the pap smear is not used to detect other forms of cancer, such as cancer of the ovaries or uterus. Therefore, you will still need to schedule an annual gynecology exam to evaluate the health of the vagina, cervix, uterus, ovaries and pelvis.
- The only women who donotneed to undergo regular pap smears are those who have no prior history of cervical dysplasia and have had a hysterectomy with removal of the cervix.
Be aware of what abnormal results could mean for your health.When a pap smear produces abnormal results, further testing or follow-up is needed. The next step depends on the precise results of the pap smear, your previous history of pap smears, and any risk factors you may have for cervical cancer.
- If the cells are identified as being cancerous or pre-cancerous, your doctor will decide on the best course of treatment. If the condition is caught early enough, a simple course of HPV immunization drugs will be enough to eliminate the cancerous cells. The most commonly prescribed medication is called Gardasil.
- It the cancer is more advanced, more extreme treatments such as radiotherapy or a hysterectomy may be required.
QuestionCan cervical cancer be treated?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerCervical cancer is treatable. You can survive it. You might need treatment ranging from minor surgery to radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or major surgery.Thanks!
QuestionIf I have sores in the entrance of my vagina, can the doctor still do a pap smear?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. A smear test might help diagnose what is causing the sores. Get a check up at a medical center and ask if a smear test is required when you are being examined.Thanks!
QuestionWill I get pregnant after doing a pap smear?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerSmear tests do not affect fertility. You will be able to become pregnant after a smear test, but the smear test will not make you pregnant.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I stay relaxed during a smear test?Ashlee SheatsCommunity AnswerAlthough it is an uncomfortable situation to be in, close your eyes, take deep breaths, and try not to think about it. The pap smear itself is very quick, and you shouldn't feel much pain at all beyond a slight pinching sensation.Thanks!
QuestionWhat does a speculum feel like?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt can be cold and you might feel a little pressure or discomfort. You should not feel any pain, and if you do, you should let the doctor know.Thanks!
QuestionDo I need to do a pap smear if I'm a virgin?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, even if you are not sexually active it's wise to get regular pap smears as they can detect cancer.Thanks!
QuestionDo I need a pap smear if I have had a total hysterectomy?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerA total hysterectomy involves the removal of the uterus. The cervix is the bottom of the uterus. If you don't have a uterus, then you do not have a cervix, therefore a pap smear is unnecessary.Thanks!
QuestionWhat are the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe signs and symptoms of cervical cancer can vary, but may include blood spots or light bleeding between or following periods; menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual; bleeding after intercourse, douching, or a pelvic examination; increased vaginal discharge; pain during sexual intercourse; bleeding after menopause; and unexplained, persistent pelvic and/or back pain.Thanks!
QuestionI have had the HPV vaccine. Do I still need a pap smear or is it unnecessary?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, you still need regular pap smears. There are many things beyond HPV that a pap smear is designed to check for.Thanks!
Can I do a pap smear if I did an ultrasound sonar?
I tried to get a pap smear when I was a virgin, couldn't it was too painful why?
Does a pap smear indicate if I can have children or not?
How many days should I refrain from sex before my appointment?
It might seem intimidating to get a pap smear, but it’s a normal procedure that’s important for your health. When you get to your appointment, be prepared to undress from the waist down. Lie on the examination and place your feet in the stirrups. When the doctor starts his examination, take a deep breath and try to relax. The exam will only take a few moments, during which time you may experience slight discomfort, or you might not feel much at all.
- The Pap smear test is not 100% accurate. Cervical cancer may be missed in a small number of cases. Most of the time, cervical cancer develops very slowly and follow-up Pap smears should identify changes in time for treatment.
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