Ideal Time to Undergo A Pap Smear

Try to schedule prior to your period, but anytime is better than not at all.

According to the American Cancer Society, it is ideal to have a Pap smear done at least five days prior to the start of your period.

It is not recommended to undergo a Pap smear during your period. This is because menstrual fluid and blood may make it difficult for the pathologist to interpret your results. That being said, if the flow is light, some doctors will perform a Pap smear. In fact, newer, liquid-based Pap smears can separate cervical cells from mucus and blood, allowing a more accurate reading.

The big picture here is that a pap smear can technically be done during your period, but it's best to avoid this in order to improve the accuracy of your test results.

What Happens if I Start My Period When My Pap Smear is Scheduled?

If you have started your period unexpectedly or find you have scheduled your Pap during a time when you may have your period (it happens), call your doctor's office. Ask to speak to a nurse or the doctor and inform them that your Pap smear will coincide with your period.

You may be asked to reschedule or be told to keep your appointment. In that case, the doctor will most likely check to see if the flow is light enough to proceed with the test.

What Else Should I Think About When Scheduling My Pap Smear?

It is also suggested that women avoid having anything in the vagina 48 hours prior to a Pap smear. This includes:

  • Sexual intercourse
  • Spermicides, foams, or jellies
  • Douching
  • Vaginal inserts
  • Tampons

All of these things can make it difficult for the pathologist to accurately interpret pap smear results. But most importantly, don't avoid having the test done—it's much better to have a Pap smear at a less-than-optimal time than not at all.

When Should I Schedule My Pap Smear if I am Post-Menopausal?

It is a common misconception that women who have gone through menopause no longer need regular Pap smears.

Post-menopausal women may still need Pap smears. Those who still require Pap smears can have the test performed at any time during the month, as post-menopausal women no longer menstruate. 

When Can I Stop Getting Pap Smears?

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), women can stop cervical cancer screening after the age of 65, although this is a personal decision that should be discussed carefully with a woman's doctor. Your doctor will want to ensure that you have had a recent series of normal Pap smears before giving you the OK to stop screening.

In addition, some women may need to be screened after the age of 65 depending on their risk factors (for example, having a history of cervical cancer or moderate or severe abnormal cervical cells). 

A Word From Verywell

Here is a quick review of guidelines to keep in mind when scheduling your next Pap smear:

  • Do not schedule for a day that you may be menstruating.
  • Try to schedule an appointment at least five days prior to the beginning of your next period.
  • Avoid inserting anything into your vagina for two days prior to your pap smear to optimize the accuracy of your cervical cancer screening results.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. (July 2016). Cervical cancer prevention and early detection

American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. (February 2016). Frequently Asked Questions: Cervical Cancer Screening

National Cancer Institute. (September 2014). Pap and HPV Testing

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