6 Ways to Prepare for Your Pap Smear

Optimize the accuracy of your Pap test results

A Pap smear (also known as a Pap test) 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 some steps that you can take to help ensure an accurate Pap smear.

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 help prevent cervical cancer. A Pap smear can detect abnormal changes to the cervix long before they become cancerous.

For immunocompetent patients (people who have healthy immune systems), the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends a Pap smear every three years for women who are between the ages of 21 and 29.

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

Schedule a Pap Test at the Right Time

Try not to 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 can reschedule. 

No Sex or Douching Ahead of Time

Can you have sex before a Pap smear? A general rule of thumb is: Don't have anything inside your vagina in the two days before having a Pap smear. This is because it can mask abnormal cells, possibly causing an inaccurate Pap smear result. This includes having intercourse and douching, as well as using tampons or any sort of vaginal lubricant, medicine, or cream. (Douching, actually, isn't recommended at any time—regardless of whether you're preparing for a Pap test.)

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

Ask When You Will Receive Results

Ask your doctor or one of his or her 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. Make sure that you ask—do not just assume that "no news is good news."

Tell the Doctor of Previous Abnormal Pap Smears

Your doctor needs to know whether you have had previous abnormal Pap smears. Let him or 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 whether you had a colposcopy, biopsy, or any other treatment related to an abnormal Pap smear.

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

Follow Your Doctor's Recommendations After an Abnormal Pap Test 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.

Sources:

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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