Pap smears aren’t exactly most women’s idea of fun—being spread eagle in your doctor’s office in those cold stirrups is awkward and uncomfortable. Despite the unglamorous nature, they’re crucial and they aren’t to be overlooked. Talk to your doctor and get that thing done. Don’t fear, we all have to go through it.
It’s used to screen for cervical cancer.
Unity Point Health revealed that approximately 12,900 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2015 alone, with 4,100 women dying from the disease. This is no joke and nothing to be blase about. Pap smears test for cervical cancer, which is a killer. The test is done by removing cells from your cervix to send to the lab and looking for abnormal growths. The earlier it’s caught, the better your chance for survival.
You should have a test every three years.
If you’re between the ages of 21-29, you should be getting pap smears every three years without a doubt. It doesn’t matter if you’re sexually active or not, the frequency should remain the same. Don’t skip out because you haven’t been having sex as some precancerous HPVs can lie dormant for years before showing themselves. It’s crucial to be regularly tested.
You should get regular pap smears by age 21.
In general, regular pap smears should start occurring once you hit age 21, but they should happen sooner if you’re sexually active earlier. Don’t be afraid to go and get a pap smear if you’re younger than 21. Your doctor isn’t judging your sex life—they only want the best for you.
The procedure’s only slightly uncomfortable.
Many women avoid the procedure because it’s slightly awkward to have your legs spread eagle for your doctor. They also avoid it because of the physical discomfort that it can bring. It can cause some cramping, light bleeding, and physical discomfort from the procedure, just to name a few possible side effects. Luckily, that’s the worst of it. Nothing really bad or dramatic happens.
It can also test for HPV.
HPV can cause cell changes to the cervix that can result in cancer. There are over 100 kinds of HPV. Some are related to cervical cancer and some aren’t (like the kind that causes genital warts). All sexually active women are at risk of potentially getting HPV, so this is one of the reasons why testing is so important.
Getting the HPV vaccine doesn’t mean you’re exempt from pap smears.
You may think that because you’ve had the series of vaccines that you’re now able to skip out on your pap smears. This isn’t the case. While the vaccine does help protect against certain types of cervical cancers, it’s not effective against HPV and other STDs. It’s important to keep getting tested on a regular basis.
A monogamous relationship doesn’t mean you’re free from pap smears.
If you’ve been sexually active with one person for many years you may think that you’re safe from getting the test done. This isn’t the case, though. As I said, some kinds of HPV will be dormant for many years before showing themselves. So, you could have had a partner years ago that transmitted the infection and you have no idea. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
The test doesn’t find other STDs.
Note that if you’re looking for a test for all STDs, you’ll have to either ask your doctor to do that in addition to the pap smear or get it from a clinic. All STD testing is important, so it’s good to do that, too. It’s just important to know that it won’t happen during your pap smear unless it’s explicitly been stated that STD testing is happening, too.
An abnormal test isn’t the end of the world.
Note that receiving abnormal results may sound scary, but it’s not always indicative of cancerous cells. It does often mean HPV was found, though. If it’s any comfort, most sexually active men and women will get at least one form of HPV throughout their lives. It’s not the end of the world and it seldom means cancer. It just means more tests and monitoring.
Ask your doctor if you have questions.
Your doctor will be happy to answer any question you may have. They just want to make sure you have the pap smear done, so they’d be glad to make you as comfortable as possible in the process leading up to it. Don’t hold any question back, they’re all welcome—even the ones you think might be weird. Like I said, anything to get you to do the test that’ll ultimately help your safety and health.