How to Prepare for a Pap Smear

How to Prepare for a Pap Smear

More than 4,000 women in the United States die from cervical cancer every year. What may be even more horrifying than that statistic is that cervical cancer is both preventable and — if found early enough — curable. 

At OBGYN Care in Houston, Texas, expert gynecologist Sharon Smith, MD, and our team recommend the simple Pap smear test for sexually active girls and women as part of a well-woman exam

A Pap smear identifies early cellular changes in your cervix that could indicate the presence of cancer.

The Pap smear changed everything

A researcher named George Nicholas Papanicolaou was among the first who realized that cancerous cells could be identified in a woman’s cervical mucus. He devised a simple procedure that uses swabs to remove cervical mucus so it can be examined under a microscope for cancerous or precancerous changes.

The simple Pap smear test had an outsized impact on women’s health. In the early 1900s, 24-37 per 100,000 women developed cervical cancer. Today, just about 7.5 per 100,000 do. 

Pap smears take just minutes

There’s no reason to fear a Pap smear. This simple test only takes a few minutes to perform and is done as part of a normal gynecological exam.

After we take your vital signs and you change into a disposable exam gown, Dr. Smith enters your room and begins her examination. She may palpate your breasts and conduct a pelvic exam. You may also need to provide a blood or urine sample for testing.

When it’s time for your Pap smear, you simply lie back on the exam table with your feet in the stirrups. Dr. Smith cleans your labia with a sterile pad and then inserts a sterilized speculum into your vagina. A speculum is a tool that dilates your cervix and holds it open.

Your cervix is the opening to your uterus. You may feel a slight pinch when she opens the speculum, but it shouldn’t hurt. She then swabs your cervical opening with a cotton swab, collecting cervical mucus, which she smears onto medical slides.

Then she removes the speculum. If you’ve had a hysterectomy, she simply swabs your vaginal walls and smears the mucus onto slides. That’s it. Your Pap smear is over.

Results take a couple of weeks

Dr. Smith sends your Pap smear slides to a lab, which analyzes them. The lab technician looks for the presence of abnormal cells that could indicate the beginnings of cervical cancer or could represent precancerous changes. 

If you’re between the ages of 30 and 65, she may also request that the lab look for evidence of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer. 

If the lab technicians don’t see anything out of the ordinary, your Pap smear is considered “negative.” That’s positive for you, because it means you don’t have any precancerous or cancerous changes.

If your HPV test is positive — which means that you’re infected with the virus — Dr. Smith may conduct Pap smears more often to ensure that you stay safe by increasing your chances of early detection. 

Abnormal results may mean more tests

If the lab does detect abnormal cells on your Pap smear, that doesn’t mean you have cancer. It means that Dr. Smith may conduct more tests to find out why your Pap smear was positive (i.e., abnormal), such as:

If your next tests are negative, Dr. Smith probably won’t test you again until the following year. If your second Pap smear is abnormal, she may refer you to an oncologist.

Make a Pap smear routine

Pap smears are a fast, pain-free, simple way to ensure that your cervix is healthy and cancer-free. If you do have troubling changes, we often catch it early enough so we can treat and cure it.

Include a Pap smear as part of your self-care plan. Dr. Smith and the American College of Gynecology recommend the following schedule for Pap smears

Keep your cervix healthy. Set up your — or your daughter’s — Pap smear today by contacting our friendly Houston, Texas, office staff.

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