What is a pap test?
(or sometimes called pap smear) is a quick procedure performed on most individuals with a cervix (Mayo Clinic)
performed to collect cells from the cervix to allow for their examination (Cancer Care Manitoba)
often detects changes prior to the occurrence of cancer (Canadian Cancer Society; Cancer Care Manitoba; Mayo Clinic).
most often a doctor’s office (Mayo Clinic)
recommended for most individuals with a cervix, between the ages of 21-69, every three years (Cancer Care Manitoba)
BUT, some individuals may have risk factors that alter this general recommendation. Discuss with your healthcare provider if this test should be performed and if so, when this test should be performed, and how often is right for you.
After consultation with your healthcare provider, if the test is right for you, ask them what steps to take prior to the procedure. You may want to inquire about what Mayo Clinic suggests which is to “avoid intercourse, douching, or using any vaginal medicines or spermicidal foams, creams or jellies for two days before having a Pap smear, as these may wash away or obscure abnormal cells”. They also recommend scheduling your procedure for a time when you are not menstruating. Once at your appointment, you will likely be asked to undress from the waist down and to lie down on the exam bed with your feet in stirrups (Mayo Clinic) (and given a hospital gown or blanket). From there, the healthcare provider will insert what is called a speculum into your vagina and will then use an instrument to remove samples of your cervical cells (Mayo Clinic). While you may experience pressure during the procedure, pain is not typically experienced (Mayo Clinic).
This procedure is hugely important with helping to prevent cervical cancer (Canadian Cancer Society; Cancer Care Manitoba; Mayo Clinic). Although unlikely, if the pap test results come back abnormal, often, with proper follow-up, steps can be taken to help cancer be prevented (Canadian Cancer Society; Cancer Care Manitoba; Mayo Clinic). Additionally, the HPV vaccine helps protect against cervical cancer, among other things, including genital warts and other cancers, such as cancer of the mouth (Cancer Care Manitoba). When the vaccine is given prior to sexual activity, it is found to have an efficacy of almost 100% at preventing infection and those who are already sexually active may still benefit from the vaccine (Cancer Care Manitoba). The Manitoba Government also suggests that almost everyone (not just those with a cervix) should receive the vaccine.
With busy lives, a pap test may not seem like a top priority, or perhaps the thought of it is anxiety-provoking . But please remember, it could save your life. If anxiety or lack of information about pap tests is discouraging you from obtaining one, consider speaking with your healthcare provider and share your concerns and feelings . If you do not feel comfortable getting this procedure done with your healthcare provider, Nine Circles Community Health Centre, located in Winnipeg, may be able to perform the procedure should you wish. Advocate for your health, and know you deserve to feel respected and comfortable, as well as to have all the information you need to make in an informed decision about your health.
Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pap-smear/about/pac-20394841
Cancer Care Manitoba: https://www.cancercare.mb.ca/screening/cervix
Canadian Cancer Society: https://cancer.ca/en/treatments/tests-and-procedures/pap-test
About the Author
Hi everyone! Currently, I am completing an honours of psychology degree through the Faculty of Arts. I am very excited to be a part of the Healthy U team because I am passionate about health and increasing accessibility to care, building resources in the community, and diminishing stigma.
I love psychology, so when I am not studying, I enjoy exercising, travelling, and spending time with loved ones.