To Smear or not to Smear: Exploring the myths and truths of a Pap Smear

A lot of women spend too much time worrying about Pap Smears (also called a Pap test). They imagine lying on a cold exam table with a doctor up to his elbows in your lady bits, examining you with some sort of medieval-like tool. Well, that’s just not the case. The truth is that a Pap test is a routine test that takes no time at all and can actually save your life. So what is this dreaded test? Who does it? What happens, and when do you have to get it? Don’t worry, we will let you know everything there is to know about this test and, hopefully, take some of the fear and anxiety out of it.

A Pap test is a medical test that checks for changes in the cells of your cervix (the entrance to your uterus). The test is performed by a doctor or a nurse practitioner. You can always request a female nurse perform the exam if you are uncomfortable with a male doctor or nurse performing the Pap test. So what happens during the test? You remove your undies, lie on examination table, placing your feet in stirrups. The doctor or nurse will then carefully insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina. The doctor or nurse will then gently open the speculum so she can see your cervix. Next, a cotton swab or small brush is used to collect some cells form your cervix. Then you get to put your underwear back on, exchange awkward pleasantries with the doctor, and go on with your day.

Pap exams can be uncomfortable or unpleasant, but should not be painful. If it is your first exam, let the doctor or nurse know, and they will try to be even gentler with you during the exam.

The test looks for any changes in the cells of your cervix which could indicate the presence of cervical cancer. If caught early, cervical cancer can be treated and even cured, this is why Pap tests are so important in treating and preventing cervical cancer. Pap tests do not test for STIs, but they can detect changes to the cells of the cervix that indicate the presence of HPV- human papillomavirus, that can cause Genital Warts.

Once the exam is over, the doctor will send the sample to a laboratory to be examined. If the results are normal, you will not be contacted. If any abnormalities are detected, the nurse of doctor will let you know and will explain the results to you and what you will need to do next.

So when should you get a Pap test? According to the Women’s Health website, women should start getting regular Pap tests done at 21 or when you become sexually active. The test should be done every year, or every other year if your initial three tests have come back normal.

So there you go. The infamous Pap test is really not that bad. It takes roughly fifteen minutes and could save your life. Hopefully this helped answer some of the questions or fears you had about Pap tests. If you need more information, send us an email, visit some of the links posted below, or talk to your doctor.

 

Some useful websites:

http://canadiantaskforce.ca/guidelines/screening-for-cervical-cancer/

http://www.cwhn.ca/en/node/44806

http://www.paptestinfo.ca/index_e.html

http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/pap-test.cfm#c

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