A Pap smear is a fast, simple test that detects early cellular changes on your cervix that could indicate cancer or a precancerous condition. Pap smears have helped saved the lives of millions of women since it was first introduced in a book published in 1943.
In fact, thanks to increased screenings with Pap smears, both the overall incidence of cervical cancer and the death rate from the disease has dropped by 50% in the United States since the mid-1970s. Nevertheless, each year more than 4,000 women in the US die from cervical cancer. When it’s caught early with a Pap test, cervical cancer is curable.
To protect your health and your life, Dr. Rafiq Mian and our team at Mian OB/GYN & Associates in Silver Spring, Maryland, perform Pap smears during well-women exams and on demand. Most sexually active women should have their first Pap smear by age 21. You then have regular Pap smears every 2-5 years, depending on your situation.
If you’re ready for your first Pap smear, you may wonder what to expect. Is there anything you need to do? How long do you have to wait for results? And what do they mean?
First, time your Pap smear
Make sure you’re not going to have your period at the same time as your Pap smear. During your test, your doctor removes cells from the opening of your uterus, which is known as your cervix.
If you’re currently bleeding, we can’t get an accurate sample of cells, and so won’t perform the test. Feel free to call us — even last minute — to reschedule your test for another time in your cycle when you’re not bleeding.
Second, follow the 48-hour rule
For the 48 hours before your Pap test, it’s important not to introduce any foreign objects or chemicals into your vagina that could affect the cells on your cervix. During the two days before your Pap, don’t:
- Have sex
- Use lubricants
- Put powders or sprays near your vulva or vagina
- Insert tampons
- Insert suppositories, creams, or other substances
- Rinse with douches, vinegar, or even water
The point is to keep your vagina and cervix in their natural condition and at their normal pH. If you’re unsure of what to avoid, please call us for clarification. We’re always happy to answer your questions.
Third, don’t worry
A Pap test doesn’t take long. It’s also not painful, though you may feel a pinch or two. Prepare yourself for your test by visualizing the steps you undergo:
- You change into a hospital gown.
- You lie back on the exam table.
- You put your feet into the stirrups.
- You scoot downward toward your doctor.
- Your doctor inserts a lubricated speculum into your vagina.
- They use the speculum to open your vagina.
- They widen the speculum so they can see your cervix.
- They take a swab of cells from your cervix.
- They place the cells in a special collection jar.
- They remove the speculum.
- Your Pap smear is finished.
You may feel some pressure when your doctor inserts and expands the speculum. You may also feel a pinch when they swab for cells in your cervix. However, these are minor discomforts and you shouldn’t be in any pain. Some women feel a bit crampy afterwards or have a little spotting.
Fourth, wait for results
Your results shouldn’t take more than a few days to a couple of weeks. In most cases, your Pap smear is “negative,” which means your cervix is free of abnormal cells. That’s good news! You don’t have to have any follow-up tests until your next scheduled Pap smear.
If your results are “positive,” that doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. It just means that some of the cells in your cervix looked abnormal. Dr. Mian may book another Pap smear, or another type of similar test called colposcopy, which allows him to take a closer, more magnified look at your cervix and its cells.
He may also recommend a test for the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is the virus that causes 95% of cervical cancer cases. In fact, depending on your age and risk factors, he may recommend an HPV test at the same time you have your first Pap test.
Your first Pap smear is an important step toward safeguarding your reproductive and overall health. Book your Pap smear or well-woman exam today by phoning us or filling out our online booking form.