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What to Expect During a Pap Smear

Merely mention the phrase “Pap smear” around a group of women and you’ll be met with eye rolls, snorts, and scoffs in response — Pap smears aren’t a woman’s favorite thing, to put it mildly. Despite the discomfort they bring many women, however, Pap smears remain a critical part of women’s health care and monitoring female reproductive health. 

At North Texas Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates in Plano, Texas, our providers do everything they can to make you as comfortable as possible during your Pap smear. You can help yourself out a bit, too, by reading up on what exactly happens during a Pap smear.

What is a Pap smear?

A Pap smear, also known as a Pap test, is the screening procedure for detecting cervical cancer in women. Pap smears are often part of a full pelvic exam, which involves inspection of all female reproductive organs, including the vagina, vulva, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. A pelvic exam usually also includes testing for sexually transmitted diseases. 

What happens during a Pap smear?

Once you’ve been escorted to the exam room, you undress from the waist down while you wait for your gynecologist. After a few moments, your gynecologist will knock on the door and ask if you’re ready. Your provider drapes a cover over your waist and upper thighs, and you lie down on the exam table, placing your feet into the stirrups. 

Your doctor inserts a metal tool called a speculum into your vagina in order to get a good view of your cervix. Once the speculum is in place, your provider takes a swab of the cells on the lining of your cervix — it takes only a short moment to get the cell sample. Once your gynecologist has a good sample, they remove the speculum. 

After going over anything you want to discuss with your doctor, you are free to go!

Who needs a Pap smear, and how often?

The current guidelines for Pap smears recommend that every woman get a Pap smear every three years, starting at age 21. The guidelines formerly recommended annual Pap smears, but medical professionals and researchers later learned that every three years suffices for women who don’t have a history of abnormal Pap smears or a family history of cervical cancer. 

If you do have a history of abnormal Pap results or a family history of cervical cancer, your doctor may recommend more frequent testing. Other women who may need a Pap smear more often include those who have tested HIV-positive and those who have a weakened immune system. Talk to your doctor if you think you fall into one of these groups. 

As you get older, you may not need Pap smears as frequently. For example, after age 30, you may be able to decrease the frequency to every five years if you’ve never had an abnormal Pap result. And women age 65 or older may be able to discontinue Pap smears entirely if they’ve never had an abnormal result. 

To learn more about Pap smears or schedule your Pap appointment, call North Texas Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates at its Plano, Texas, office at 469-240-1866. You can also send a message to the team here on the website.

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