The Truth About Pap Smears

Tamara HunterBlog

You may think that having Pap Smears is terribly uncomfortable or painful, and that the wrong result brings you face up with a cancer diagnosis. Well, neither one of these things is true! Let’s clear up some common misconceptions about Pap smears.

Pap Smears: What Are They For?

A Pap test, also called a Pap smear, is a screening procedure to detect cervical cancer. It tests for the presence of cancerous or precancerous cells on the cervix. (The cervix is the opening of the uterus).

pap smears

How To Prepare For Pap Smears

No special preparation is needed, but here are a few tips to make things go smoothly. Pap smears can be done while you’re menstruating, but the results will be less accurate. If possible, schedule your exam for a time you aren’t menstruating.

Avoid douching, intercourse and use of spermicidal products the day before the test. Things will go most smoothly when your body is relaxed, so remember to breathe!

What To Expect During Your Pap Smear

Pap smears are actually a very quick and painless procedure. It literally takes just minutes. While lying on your back, you spread your legs and rest your feet in stirrups. Your doctor slowly inserts a device called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum keeps the vaginal walls open, so your doctor can then scrape a small sample of cells from your cervix.

Please, don’t let the word ‘scrape’ put you off! The most you’ll feel is a slight push or pressure, and maybe a slight irritation, while your doctor uses a small tool or brush to take the sample of cells.

After the Pap smear is over, you may feel some mild discomfort, or even a bit of cramping or very light bleeding. On the other hand, you may feel nothing at all. Let your doctor know if any discomfort or bleeding lasts more than twenty-four hours.

pap smears

What Do My Results Mean?

Immediately following the Pap smear, your sample is sent to a lab, where it is screened for the presence of abnormal cells.

If your test comes back as ‘normal,’ or ‘negative,’ that means there’s no evidence of abnormal cell growth at this time, and you can rest easy until your next Pap smear.

My results were ‘abnormal.’ Should I worry?

Don’t rush to the worst conclusion. Abnormal Pap results do not mean cancer. In fact, nothing may be wrong at all. You see, an abnormal result just means some of your cervical cells have changed. But, this change may have been caused by:

  • Inflammation
  • Low estrogen environment eg menopause
  • Infection
  • HPV (Human Papilloma Virus)

HPV is a major risk factor for cervical cancer. Your doctor may recommend a repeat Pap smear to test for this virus.

To make things even more complex, your results may be ‘inconclusive.’ All this means is that some of your cells didn’t look quite normal, nor could they be classified as abnormal. Again, some change has taken place, but this does not indicate that you have cancerous cells.

Still have concerns?

Once your Pap results are in, your gynaecologist will recommend next steps, should any abnormalities exist. Book an appointment to discuss your concerns

Useful links

Read more about abnormal pap smear results and menstrual disorders affecting young women.