The Papanicolaou (Pap) test ("smear", stain) is a screening method to detect pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions of the uterine cervix, including HPV, "dysplasia" (LSIL, HSIL, CIN) and carcinoma.

Every year, it’s estimated that more than 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States. Though that number can be alarming to some, it may be comforting to know that the number of women who die from cervical cancer is declining. Why? Pap smears. This typing of testing allows doctors to detect cervical cancer early, giving women more of a fighting chance to get rid of cancer in their bodies.

But if you’ve never had a pap smear done before, you could be anxious about what the process entails. Keep reading below to learn all about it from our experts.

When Do Women Receive Pap Smears?

It is recommended by medical professionals for women ages 21 to 65 to receive a pap smear every three years. However, there are many risk factors that might require a woman to get testing done more frequently:

  • Weakened immune system.
  • HIV infections.
  • Family history of cervical cancer.
  • Previous positive test results.

What Happens When Receiving a Pap Smear?

Though it only takes a few minutes, many women commonly describe the testing as uncomfortable. Here are the steps that happen when receiving a pap smear:

  • You will undress from the bottom down or be completely undressed.
  • Your doctor will ask you to lay down on your back with your knees bent and feet in the stirrups.
  • An instrument called the speculum will be inserted into your vagina. This is where the discomfort comes from: the pressure that keeps your vaginal walls apart.
  • A sample of your cells will be taken using a small brush and a spatula.
  • The cells will be tested to see if you have normal results or abnormal results, which could be a detection of cervical cancer.

You might experience some light spotting that day after receiving the test. But, other than that, you will be able to go about your day as usual.

Do I Need to Do Anything to Prepare?

Not really, though some doctors do recommend no sexual activity a few days before in case that might skew results. It’s also recommended to try and not schedule a pap smear during your period.

If you have any further questions regarding pap smears or would like to schedule yours, reach out to the expert gynecologists at Avant Gynecology by either clicking here or giving us a call at 404-352-2850.