Pap smears are part of your annual well-woman exam. While receiving this exam is crucial in ensuring your health, it’s easy to put it on the back burner. If you’ve never gotten a pap smear before or if you’ve had a bad experience, then fear may have you reluctant to make an appointment. But, there is nothing to be afraid of.
What is a pap smear?
A pap smear is also called a pap test. During this procedure, cells are collected from your cervix — the lower, narrow end of the uterus that’s at the top of the vagina. This test is done to detect cervical cancer early by observing and looking for abnormalities or cancerous cells. Early detection is your greatest chance of a cure. It’s typically conducted at the same time as a pelvic exam, but these two tests are not the same.
How often should you receive a pap smear?
Generally, women should receive a pap smear by the time they are 21. And, it’s recommended that you get a pap smear done once every three years. But, risk factors may require you to get tested more often. These considerations include:
- A diagnosis of cervical cancer or a pap smear that showed precancerous cells
- Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth
- HIV infection
- Weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy, or chronic corticosteroid use
- A history of smoking
What to Expect From a Pap Smear
A pap smear is usually done during a well-woman exam. It typically takes less than a minute to insert the speculum and take a cell sample from your cervix. The entire appointment may take longer though, depending on whether it’s your first well-woman exam or if it’s been a long time since your previous gynecological appointment.
Can a pap smear hurt?
During a pap smear, a physician will place a speculum into your vagina. The speculum opens up to separate the walls of your vagina so that they can see your cervix. Then, a small spatula or tiny brush is used to collect cells from your cervix. During this process, you may feel some pressure or mild discomfort when the speculum is put in and opened and some light scratching when the cells are taken. Neither of which should hurt or be extremely painful. Although, you may have some staining or light bleeding after.
Tips to Make a Pap Smear Hurt Less
While pap smears should not be painful, everyone’s pain tolerance is different. As such, there are a few things you can do to help lessen any pain or discomfort. This includes:
- Breathing slowly and deeply
- Letting your stomach muscles go soft
- Relaxing your shoulders
- Relaxing the muscles between your legs
- Asking your physician to describe what they’re doing as they do it
If You Need a Gynecological Exam, Nurse Practitioners of Florida Can Help
At Nurse Practitioners of Florida, we have a dedicated team of certified nurse practitioners who have an unwavering commitment to providing you with care and compassion. When you call any of our locations, you will be greeted by a live person who’s ready to offer acute medical care as well as aesthetic procedures — including well-woman exams. And, above everything else, you will be treated like family.
If you need assistance, call us or fill out our online contact form.