A pap smear appointment is an important step in taking your health into your own hands. Throughout adulthood, you’ll need to have these appointments to ensure that your cervical health is as best it can be. Here’s everything you need to know before your first appointment. If you have any questions, ask your doctor — they’re there to help you.
What Is A Pap Smear?
A pap smear is a procedure in which a small brush removes cells from the cervix to be tested. It is a sensitive procedure that can cause a lot of anxiety in people who have never gotten one before. In truth, there’s not much to fear. Once you know what to expect, as well as potential harmless side effects afterward, you’ll be ready for your first appointment. You shouldn’t skip it because it’s important for your health.
A pap smear checks for several things, including:
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma
- Cervical Cancer (or precancers)
- Human Papillomavirus
Most people, starting at 21, should be getting a pap smear around every three years, though three to five years is also acceptable. You can change how often you make these appointments after 30. Over time, you may not need to make as many appointments. Just follow your doctor’s recommendations, and you can keep yourself healthy and safe.
5 Things You Need To Know About Pap Smear Appointments
When you know what to expect before an appointment, you can defeat some of the fear of the unknown. Once you know what happens, you’ll be able to tell yourself that it’s okay and that you’ll be just fine. You could be worrying yourself over nothing.
1. It Will Be Awkward
You’ll be in an unfamiliar place and have your feet up in stirrups. It’s an awkward position to be in — and your doctor knows that you’ll be feeling a bit awkward! Even discussing your personal information might feel uncomfortable, but remember that your doctor needs to know these things to give you the best possible care. Try to remember that they go through these appointments every day. You don’t need to feel self-conscious, but it’s understandable if you do. Just know that your doctor is on your side and wants to make sure you’re healthy above all else.
2. How The Process Works
The process doesn’t take long at all, and you may wonder what all your worry was for. However, being in that position for the first time can be terrifying. It helps to know what to expect when you go into your first pap smear appointment.
Your doctor will use a tool called a speculum to widen the opening of your vagina. The speculum is a type of forceps, which are used in various medical applications and come in different lengths and sizes, that will hold the opening apart so your doctor can quickly go in. Then, they’ll insert a brush to scrape some of the cells from your cervix. You might not even feel this part. The cells will then be sent off to be tested for various issues, and you’ll be done.
3. You Might Feel Discomfort
Some people feel discomfort during the pap smear process. You should be prepared to feel a bit uncomfortable because the process will be new to you. You might not even feel the “scraping” at all — and even if you did, it probably wouldn’t be the main source of your discomfort.The discomfort will likely come from your doctor inserting the speculum, which can feel like pressure, though some people report pain. Just remember to breathe through it and relax.
4. You Can Request To Be More Comfortable
If you’re afraid of the tools bringing you discomfort, you can request a different type of tool. Typically, people who have experienced assault or another traumatic experience might opt for a different approach to their appointments. A smaller speculum might help, and some people even request to put the speculum in themselves. You should be allowed to do anything that would make you feel more comfortable and don’t be afraid to speak up.
5. It’s Okay If You Have Your Period
Your period should not get in the way of a routine pap screening. Of course, you should always check with your clinic, just in case. If your flow is a bit heavier, you may need to reschedule. The blood can make it a bit more difficult to read the results, which can result in a rescheduled appointment anyway. Try not to be embarrassed about mentioning your period — your OB/GYN deals with this stuff every day. Over time, as you make annual check-ups for your long-term health, you may grow more comfortable with the process overall.
Remember That You’ll Be Okay
Pap smears can be intimidating if you’ve never had one before. The thought of them might cause anxiousness and stress. The good news is that you don’t have to worry — the doctor will know exactly what they’re doing and can help alleviate any concerns before you begin. Take comfort in the fact that you are taking ownership of your health and wellbeing through preventative care.