You’ve probably have heard of Pap smears, and that it’s important to get them on the reg. But lots of us don’t know why this test is so necessary!
Although it seems a little mysterious and definitely a bit daunting, Pap smears should be on the radar for anyone who has a cervix. Knowing the facts behind this routine screening procedure can ease some of the anxiety caused where we aren’t sure what to expect! Below are some common Q & A’s to give you more info so we can better answer the question “what’s the point of a Pap?” with ease. 😊
Q: What is a Pap test?
A Pap smear is a screening procedure for cervical cancer. A small sample of cells is collected from the cervix, (the opening of the uterus) and then tested for abnormal or cancerous cells. Cervical cancer is the 2nd most common type of cancer among women worldwide, so it’s an important step in keeping your health in your hands!
Q: What happens during a Pap?
During a Pap smear, a tool called a speculum is inserted into the vagina to access the cervix. A tiny spatula or brush is then used to gather a sample of cervical cells. It usually only takes a couple minutes, or less! This sample is sent into a lab to be examined for abnormalities, and the lab lets us know your results.
Q: Will the procedure hurt?
This screening procedure should not be a painful process. In some cases, people may experience discomfort from the speculum or light bleeding afterwards. If you’re nervous, we can provide a heating pad, juice, and other accommodations to make sure you’re feeling ready to take this important step for your health!
Q: Who should have a Pap?
Recommendations can vary depending on your unique health history, but if you’re 21 and over and have a cervix, you should start getting Pap smears.
Q: How often should I have a Pap?
It’s currently recommended that a Pap should be performed every 3 years. However, depending on your unique results and health history, it may be recommended a Pap should be performed more often. Everyone is different!
Q: What happens if my Pap smear comes back abnormal?
If your pap comes back abnormal, that means that abnormal appearing cells were found on your cervix. It most likely doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. Most often, the abnormal test result means that HPV has caused changes to your cervical cells that can be mild, moderate or severe. Your provider will evaluate your results and may recommend a follow up, or a procedure called a colposcopy, which allows your provider to get a closer look at your cervix and recommend if further steps should be taken.
Q: What role does HPV play?
HPV, human papillomavirus, is a common sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer. According to the World Health Organization, there are two types of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancers and precancerous cervical lesions. Many people who contract HPV do not show any symptoms, but can still spread the virus to others through sexual contact. Although there is no cure for HPV, a vaccine called Gardasil 9 can protect you from several high risk strains of HPV. This vaccine protects against HPV types that cause 80% of cervical cancer cases and 90% of genital wart cases. (Read more about Gardasil here!)
Q: What is a Pap smear NOT?
A Pap is NOT an STI test, a pregnancy test, only a vaginal or pelvic exam, always part of an annual wellness exam, or an ovarian cancer screening. Even if you’ve had any of the above, it’s not a replacement for a Pap.
Bridgercare offers Pap smears, annual wellness exams, colposcopies, LEEP treatment, Gardasil vaccination, and a lot more! Regardless of if you have insurance, Medicaid, or no insurance, we’re here to make sure you have access to Pap smears and other aspects of preventative and reproductive healthcare.
If you have more questions, you’re not alone! Bedsider.org and ashasexualhealth.org are great resources for further information. You can also give us a ring at 406-587-0681 and we can get you answers or help you book an appointment. You can also schedule online at Bridgercare.org/schedule. You got this! 😊
Article written by Dee Leslie, a fabulous Spring 2020 Intern!