The slides may look pretty, but they could be hiding something sinister
Does the idea of a pap smear make you cringe? Don’t let cost or squeamishness put you off — cervical cancer kills more women in Africa than any other form of cancer! Here’s all the info you need to cut out any confusion, so that you can take control of your sexual health.
How It’s Done:
During a pap smear, the doctor inserts a speculum into your vagina. This is a small plastic or steel instrument, no larger than an average size penis. It should not be painful to insert, maybe a bit uncomfortable.
The doctor examines your external genitalia and vagina for any abnormalities and then uses a small plastic brush to scrape off the outer layer of cells on your cervix (the “mouth” of your womb”). This isn’t painful. The sample is then sent to the lab to be screened for cancerous or pre-cancerous cells.
Will It Hurt?
Besides the uncomfortable bit, it not should not hurt. However, some women do experience light bleeding afterward, but most don’t. And those who do usually don’t feel anything anyway.
READ MORE: Three Ways To Keep Your Vagina Healthy
A pap smear is for good for detecting changes in the cells caused by sexually transmitted viruses such as human papiloma or HPV which could be cancerous. Your GP might want to follow up with an HPV test as a pap smear does not test primarily for HPV.
Your GP can also do your pap smear and they are done for free at some government clinics.
When To Do It:
You need your first pap smear within two years of becoming sexually active. It’s probably not necessary to get one if this time arrives before you are 20 because cervical cancer is exceptionally rare before this age. It’s worth noting that even if you’re not currently sexually active or have never been sexually active, it’s still recommended that you get a Pap if you’re over the age of 18.
You then need a smear every year, for three years. If all these smears are normal and you have remained faithful and are with the same partner, you can have a smear every second year while you are in your twenties. If you change partners, you have to have annual smears again.
Once you turn 30 and you are in a stable relationship with three previous normal smears, you should get tested for HPV. If the HPV is negative and you stay with the same partner you can have a smear only every third year. If not, you have to have a smear every year.
How Long Does It Take To Get The Results?
It all depends on the lab that examines the sample, as some labs need as few as three days to process the results. But most doctors tell patients it’ll take a week or two.
Now that you’re all clued up on what getting a pap smear is like. Be sure to call your doctor and book soonest as cervical cancer can be prevented! #SmearforSmear.
At Women’s Health we love our bodies and we love getting to know them better. So we’re owning it (#weloveourvagina) especially during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, and we would like you to do the same.