Answering Your Pap Smear Questions

A Pap smear is a brief but very important test that is performed during your routine gynecological exam. If you are scheduled to get your first Pap smear, it is common to be nervous or unsure about what to expect. Here are some answers to some frequently asked questions about Pap smears so that you can feel more informed and comfortable for your exam:

Why are Pap smears performed?

A Pap smear is a test that checks for cervical cancer in women by detecting abnormal cells. A simple swab of the cervix collects a sample that is sent off to a lab for microscopic testing and evaluation.

What happens during a Pap test?

Before the procedure, you’ll be asked to remove your clothes from the waist down and lie on an exam table with your feet in stirrups. Your physician will then insert a speculum (small instrument) into your vagina, which widens the vagina so that the cervix is more visible. A soft brush and scraping device is used to collect samples of your cervical cells. The entire procedure only takes 1-2 minutes!

Do pap smears hurt?

Every woman is different, but Pap smears should never be painful. A feeling of pressure is a common report with this test. If you are worried about feeling discomfort, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever before your appointment.

How often should women get a Pap smear?

Guidelines for Pap smear scheduling have changed in recent years. In general, if you are between the ages of 21 and 30, you should get a Pap smear every three years. It is recommended that women over 30 schedules one every five years. However, it is important to follow your gynecologist’s advice about when to get a Pap smear. Women of high risk (family history, weakened immune system, smoking) may be required to get this test done more frequently.

What should I expect in terms of results?

Depending on the lab that your physician uses, you can expect to get your Pap smear results in as little as three days or as long as two weeks. If your results produce abnormal cells, don’t panic. Your gynecologist may simply want you to schedule a follow-up appointment or repeat the procedure.

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