7 Things No One Ever Tells You About Your Pap Smear Appointment
There are many awkward situations in life, from forgetting someone’s name even though you’ve met them thrice, to laughing at a really inappropriate time. But a trip to the gynae is definitely near the top of the list. No matter how many times you go, you can’t help but clam up.
And getting a Pap smear can feel just as awkward – not to mention uncomfortable. But it’s a necessary discomfort. With as many as 7 735 new cases of cervical cancer recorded annually, it’s now the second leading cause of female cancer-related deaths in SA, so getting tested is a must.
But what if you’ve never been for one because you don’t really know much about it? Here’s everything you need to know to help you prep for your next (or first) Pap smear.
Can I have sex the night before?
Ideally, you should not have sex before going for a Pap smear, because it can obscure the cells, making the test less accurate. You don’t necessarily need to cancel the test – just consult with your doctor first.
Can I go while I’m on my period?
The best time to have a Pap smear is 14 days after the first day of your period. Having a Pap smear while on your period isn’t a good idea, because it can also make the result less accurate. If you’re experiencing light spotting, it won’t affect the result as much and your doctor will continue with the smear.
What kinds of questions will my doc ask me?
You need to tell your doctor everything about your sexual habits and cycle – now is not the time to be shy. Especially mention sexual partners and status, contraception, condom use and any discharge you’ve noticed. You might need other or more frequent tests based on your answers, but try not to be scared – it’s all for your health.
What does it mean if they find abnormal cells?
Your Pap smear might flag abnormal cells that aren’t cancerous. ASCUS means atypical cells of undetermined significance. This can be caused by infection, inflammation or HPV. The cells should return to normal again. So, what do you do? It’s important to repeat the Pap smear in six to 12 months. If the ASCUS persists, it’s best to go for a colposcopy by a gynae because it can develop into a pre-cancerous lesion.
Should you take painkillers before your Pap smear?
A Pap smear is more uncomfortable than painful, so no need to pop a pain pill before your visit. Know that the more you tense up, the more uncomfy it will be. Try to relax while taking deep breaths. Tip: Bear down slightly when the speculum is inserted to help relax the pelvic muscles.
How much will it cost?
You can have a Pap smear done by your GP or gynae – and you will need to pay for the visit, equipment and lab testing. If you do co-testing (testing for HPV and looking at the cells for cancer) the lab costs will be about R1 000. If you’re on medical aid (even certain hospital plans), they will cover the lab costs.
When and how often should I go?
Women should start going for Pap smears from the age of 25, or when they become sexually active. Follow-up testing will depend on your result. If you are low risk, for example, have a normal Pap smear and one sexual partner, you’ll generally only need to do a test every three to five years and can stop after the age of 65. Note: HIV-positive women should start with testing at diagnosis and will require more frequent tests.