12 Facts You Should Know Before Your First Pap Smear
What To Expect From Your First Pap Smear
The American Cancer Society recommends pap smears for women age 21-65 as one way to screen for cervical cancer. Here are 12 things you should know before you get a pap smear:
1. Does a Pap Smear Hurt?
No. Although it may be a little uncomfortable, sometimes described as a small pinching feeling, your pap smear should not be painful. Working with a gentle, trusted doctor can minimize the pain and make the entire procedure easier.
2. Do I Need One?
Although you always have the option to decline medical treatment, your East Mesa primary care doctor recommends that all women age 21-65 receive a pap smear at least every 3 years. Getting a pap smear can help prevent some types of cervical cancer. Many types of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), but most medical experts will recommend routine pap smears even if you are not sexually active.
3. Why Are Pap Smears Recommended?
Pap smears are used to determine whether you have abnormal cervical cells. If your results are abnormal, your provider may recommend further testing and treatment to reduce your risk of some types of cervical cancer.
4. Is a Pap Smear Different From a Pelvic Exam?
Although these procedures are often performed at the same time, they have different purposes and methods. A pelvic exam will check the health of female reproductive organs, including the vagina, vulva, cervix, ovaries, and uterus, although with an external exam for unusual discharge or irritation. A speculum will be inserted into the vagina to check for cysts, swelling, and any other abnormalities that may be present.
5. How Often Do I Need One?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends:
- Women age 21 to 29 should have a Pap smear every three years
- Women age 30 to 65 should have a Pap smear and an HPV test every five years
- Women who have HIV or a weakened immune system should have more frequent pap smears. Your East Mesa general practitioner can recommend an individual testing schedule.
6. What If I Get My Period Right Before My Appointment?
You may be able to keep your pap smear appointment if your bleeding is light or spotting. However, your provider may ask you to reschedule your appointment because getting a pap smear during your period can make your results less accurate.
7. How Is a Pap Smear Done?
A Pap smear can be performed by a doctor or nurse. Be sure to ask any questions you may have. Your provider will give you time to remove your clothing from the waist down and change into a gown. Then you’ll lie on the examination table with your feet resting in stirrups.
Your provider will make sure you are ready and then carefully insert the speculum into your vagina, which allows them to get a complete view of your cervix. A small brush will be used to gently gather cells from the surface of your cervix. Once the sample is taken, the speculum will be removed and you can get dressed privately.
8. How Long Does It Take?
Inserting the speculum and taking a cell sample from your cervix will only take a minute or two, so the entire appointment is fairly short and typically lasts as long as a regular appointment at your East Mesa family clinic.
9. How Can I Minimize Discomfort?
It’s important to remain in communication with your doctor during the procedure so that you can be as comfortable as possible. Other tips include:
- Taking ibuprofen an hour before your appointment
- Asking a trusted relative or friend to come with you
- Empty your bladder before the exam
- Ask your doctor to use the smallest speculum size
- Ask your doctor to use a plastic speculum or warm up a metal one
- Chat with your doctor during the procedure or ask them to describe what they are doing as they do it
- Wear headphones with relaxing music
- Practice deep breathing during your exam
- Relax your pelvic muscles – squeezing adds pressure and discomfort
- Consider a hot water bottle or ibuprofen for any mild cramping afterward
Some underlying health conditions can make the procedure less comfortable, which may include:
- Vaginal dryness
Additionally, if you have not previously experienced vaginal penetration or have a history of sexual abuse or trauma, the procedure may be more difficult. Seek a trauma-informed healthcare provider and talk with your East Mesa family doctor before the procedure so that they can provide you with more comfortable care.
10. Is It Normal To Bleed Afterward?
Not everyone will bleed after a pap smear, but light spotting isn’t uncommon and should go away within a day. Contact your provider if the bleeding gets heavier or lasts longer than three days.
11. When Will I Get My Test Results?
In most cases, you should have your pap smear results within a week. Ask your provider how long they expect it to take.
12. How Do I Read My Results?
Your doctor or nurse will go over the results with you, which read as normal, abnormal, or inconclusive. Inconclusive usually means that there were not enough cells for an accurate reading.
Don’t panic if you receive abnormal results. Although you may have precancerous cells, this can also be caused by inflammation, yeast, genital herpes, trichomoniasis, or HPV. Pregnancy hormones can also affect the results. Your doctor will review the results and make recommendations if necessary. In most cases, the results with be normal.
Schedule Your Appointment With a Trusted Family Doctor In Mesa
As one of the highest rated family practice clinics in Mesa, East Mesa Family Doctors is proud to offer a full range of healthcare services and treatments for your whole family. Whether you need acute care, chronic health condition management, or wellness visits, our doctors are ready to provide care with compassion and respect. Call our office today to schedule your appointment!
East Mesa Family Doctors
8035 E. Brown Road, Building 4, #101
Mesa, AZ 85207
Phone: (480) 750-0085
Email: [email protected]