What You Need To Do Before and After Your Pap Smear

How To Optimize the Accuracy of Your Pap Smear Results

A Pap smear is a screening test for cervical cancer. It specifically looks for precancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix—the organ that connects a woman's vagina to her uterus.

The good news is that there is not much that needs to be done to prepare for a pap smear, other than to make an appointment. That being said, it is not a perfect test, and getting a good sample of the cervical cells is key.

Here are steps you can take to help ensure an accurate pap test:

Get a Regular Pap Smear

Doctor and patient exam room
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Getting your Pap smear done regularly is a highly effective way to prevent cervical cancer. A Pap smear can detect abnormal changes to the cervix long before they become cancerous.

For immunocompetent patients (meaning people with a healthy immune system), the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends a pap smear every three years for women between the ages of 21 and 29.

For women age 30 years and older, ACOG recommends either a pap test every three years or co-testing with a pap smear and HPV tests every 5 years (the latter being the preferred method). 

Try Scheduling a Pap Smear at the Right Time in Your Cycle

You should try to not schedule a Pap smear during the heavy bleeding days of your period. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, it is best to schedule your pap test at least five days prior to your period beginning.

If you are having heavy bleeding, it is best to call your doctor or nurse to see if you should reschedule. 

Having Sex, Douching, or Using Vaginal Inserts Two Days Before a Pap Smear

A general rule of thumb is not to have anything inside your vagina for two days before having a Pap smear, as it can mask abnormal cells, possibly causing an inaccurate Pap smear result. This includes having intercourse, douching, or using tampons or any sort of vaginal lubricant, medicine, or creams.

If you have intercourse, douche, or use anything in the vagina before your appointment, call your doctor or nurse to see if you should or can reschedule. If you are unable to reschedule, inform your doctor before the Pap is done.

Ask When You Will Receive Pap Results

Ask your doctor or one of his medical assistants how you will be notified of your results. Many doctor's offices relay normal results by mail. Abnormal results are typically shared with a phone call. Some doctors will not contact you at all if the results are normal. That being said, ask about follow-up about your pap test. Do not just assume that "no news is good news."

Tell the Doctor of Previous Abnormal Pap Smears

Your doctor needs to know if you have had previous abnormal Pap smears. Let her know when the abnormal Pap smear occurred, the exact results of the Pap smear, and the results of any subsequent Pap smears. Be sure to also tell your doctor if you had a colposcopy, biopsy, or any other treatment related to an abnormal Pap smear.

If you have copies of previous Pap smear, colposcopy, biopsy, or treatment records, bring them with you to the appointment.

Follow Your Doctor's Recommendations After an Abnormal Pap Smear Result

If you have received abnormal Pap smear results, it is essential to follow your doctor's recommendations. This may mean repeating the Pap smear or having a colposcopy. Follow-up procedures vary, depending on the results of the Pap smear.

Your doctor's office will schedule an appointment for you to have a repeat pap smear or colposcopy (if your doctor performs colposcopies) or will refer you to a gynecologist who performs them.


American Cancer Society. (July 2016). Cervical Cancer Prevention and Early Detection: The Pap (Papanicolaou) test

American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. (February 2016). Cervical Cancer Screening

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