Let’s just be real here: your vagina is important. In order to keep it healthy and fabulous, it needs some maintenance to keep everything down there running smoothly. And one of those things is the somewhat-mysterious Pap smear.
“A Pap test can detect the early signs of cervical cancer, by finding abnormal cells before they become cancerous,” says Dr. Nicholas Meyer, a family medicine physician with Mount Nittany Physician Group Family Medicine. “When cervical cancer is caught early, the chance of successful treatment is very high.”
Meyer says all women ages 21 to 65 should have a Pap test routinely as advised by their doctor, even if you’re not sexually active. Before you even get to your Pap test appointment, there are a couple of things you have to do to be prepared.
“For two days prior to your Pap test, you should refrain from having sex, using tampons and using any vaginal creams or deodorants,” he says.
Okay, so this is important and all but what actually happens during a Pap smear? Meyer says the test only takes a few minutes and is quick and simple. If you’ve had a pelvic exam before, you may have already had a Pap smear and this may be familiar.
First, Meyer said you have to lie down on an examination table and put your feet in stirrups so the medical provider performing the exam can actually see in there. Don’t worry; you’ll be given a sheet or gown to cover up with so your lady business will be covered.
Then, Meyer says a speculum is inserted into the vagina so the examiner can see the cervix and use a special stick or brush to gather cells from the surface.
“A Pap test should not be painful, but may be mildly uncomfortable, especially if it is your first Pap test,” Meyer says.
It’s okay to feel awkward or nervous since someone you don’t know is looking at your vagina and performing a test that probably isn’t part of your daily routine. But remember, it is worth it to keep your body healthy.
Photo by Ziyan Sha