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What is a PAP Test (Papanicolaou test)? When should I have one? What is it like?
What is it?
A PAP Test checks for abnormally growing cells on the cervix. These cells could be pre-cancerous or cancerous, and getting checked for them could prevent cancer. Cervical cancer is one of most preventable cancers, and it all depends on getting checked regularly.
When do I have to get one?
Ask your doctor. They all have different guidelines. Women’s Health suggests between the ages of 21-65. They also suggests Diva Cup if your are shopping for menstrual supplies they are very cheap. My doctor said “When you’re 21 or are sexually active.” (The former applied to me.) Different countries might have different health care plans that cover the test.
What happens during a PAP Test?
First of all, you should trust your doctor. If you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor, then you should ask to be recommended to another one. Mine is amazing. He (Yes, a male. It’s okay if you don’t feel comfortable with a male doctor. They won’t be offended if you ask for a female doctor.) is excellent at explaining what’s going on with my issues, and he listens to my problems. If he doesn’t know because it’s something weird, he finds out and the nurses call me to let me know. I am lucky.
Yes, you’ll have to strip completely. Depending on the doctor’s office, they will provide you with either a cloth sheet or a paper one. Mine has cloth, but they’re very thin and not long enough to provide much privacy. Honestly, the only time I feel uncomfortable in it is when I’m waiting for the doctor to come into the room. Once he’s in, I forget that it’s uncomfortable. But everyone is different. You can ask if you are allowed to provide your own covering.
If you have a good doctor, they won’t charge right into the PAP Test. They’ll talk to you, ask if you have any questions, take blood pressure, etc. Then they’ll ask you to lie down and put your feet in the stirrups. I find that continuing to talk about your life helps to make this feel less uncomfortable. You have to spread your knees and it is possibly the most awkward and intimidating position imaginable. Just remember – practically every woman has had to deal with this same position before you. And men have to deal with the Prostate Exam! (This will be discussed at another time.)
The speculum (see image above) will be lubricated (and if your doctor is nice, warmed) and inserted. It will feel very weird. Every time. It is widened, to allow for a visual check of the cervix, and then a removal of a thin layer of cells. The widening doesn’t hurt, but the removal is uncomfortable. It gives me the same feeling as scratching the inside of my bellybutton does. But that could be just me. (Anyone else feel uncomfortable about their bellybutton being scratched?)
That’s it! The speculum is closed and removed (which also feels weird). You may have some spotting, so you might want to wear a light pad afterwards.