Pap smears aren’t done to detect STDs or STIs. Instead, they’re used to detect abnormal cells on the cervix — specifically, cells that could become cancerous.
When found early, cervical cancer is highly treatable, so pap smears are an excellent tool for increasing cancer survival rates. In addition to catching cancer early, pap smears can also help specialists prevent cancer.
Ever since medical professionals began using pap smears, the incidence of cervical cancer dropped from 9.8 to 4.9 cases per 100,000 women.
Below, we asked our experts at Bethel Family Medicine to explain how a pap smear is conducted and who benefits from it.
How often should you get a pap smear?
Specialists recommend that women between the ages of 21 and 65 have a pap smear every three years. However, you may need a pap smear more often if you have had a previous pap smear that revealed precancerous cells, have a weakened immune system due to certain illnesses, or take immunosuppressants.
In addition to getting a pap smear, our specialists may also recommend you get tested for human papillomavirus (HPV), an infection that can cause cervical cancer in women.
One way to lower your chances of cervical cancer caused by HPV is to get vaccinated. There are over 150 HPV strains found in the body, but only a few are known to be a high risk for cancer. Vaccines are developed with those dangerous types of HPV in mind.
What to expect at the doctor’s office
A pap smear is done within 10 minutes, and it doesn’t involve any pain or pain medications.
While you’re laying down with your feet in stirrups, one of our specialists keeps the walls of your vagina open using a tool called a speculum. Next, they insert a brush or a spatula to swab your cervix and collect a sample of your cells.
Preparing for your pap smear
To ensure the accuracy of your results, our specialists recommend the following:
- Avoiding intercourse for at least two days before the appointment
- Avoiding the use of medications, creams, powder, or lubricants
- Avoiding rinses with water or other fluids
You may also need to reschedule your appointment if you’re on your period.
Get peace of mind by scheduling a pap smear
Pap smears are slightly uncomfortable. However, they aren’t painful, and they can potentially save your life. If your pap smear shows abnormal results, don’t panic. Inflammation can cause cells to look abnormal. If that’s the case, you can get another pap smear in a few months.
Schedule an appointment to get your pap smear and protect yourself against cervical cancer.