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How to Prepare for a Pap Smear: A Guide for Your First Time

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 11/28/2010

Are you looking for information about preparing for your first Pap smear? If so, read on to get the details on how to prepare.

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    Pap smears are often dreaded by women, but they are necessary. Preparing for your first Pap smear can help the process go easier. A Pap smear is done to look for the presence of cervical cancer. By age 21 all women should have had their first Pap smear. Preparing for a Pap smear will also help in the results being accurate and a sample being easy to obtain.

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    Things to Avoid Before the Test

    For at least three days prior to having a Pap smear, a few things should be avoided. These may affect the test itself and/or the results. These include avoiding vaginal douches, avoiding tampons, refraining from sexual intercourse, and avoiding birth control jellies or foams.

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    Appointment Tips

    Before, during, and after the appointment there are things that can be done to ensure the process goes smoothly. These tips include:

    Be sure to schedule the appointment when it is not time for the patient's menstrual cycle. About 10 days after the patient's menstrual period is ideal. If the patient happens to be on her menstrual period on the day of the appointment call the doctor to cancel and reschedule the appointment for a time when she is not on her menstrual period.

    On the day of the appointment before the test begins, all patients must tell their doctor about any discharges, infections, or pain that she has or currently is experiencing. If the patient knows that she has been exposed to HPV, or if there is a possibility that she has been exposed, she should tell her doctor about this so that her doctor can pay special attention for signs and symptoms.

    All patients should take the time to write down any questions that they have for their doctor. She should bring this list of questions with her to her Pap smear appointment and make it a point to ask all of them.

    After the appointment once the patient receives her Pap smear results, if the results are abnormal, the patient should take the time to get the details as to why the results were abnormal from her doctor. Ask questions if there is anything that is difficult to understand.

    If the patient's doctor suggests further treatment procedures or diagnostic testing the patient should schedule it promptly. If the patient feels that further treatment or testing may not be necessary she should get a second opinion and not just ignore her doctor's advice.

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    What to Expect During the Exam

    When preparing for your first Pap smear there is a good chance you heard some horror stories. While this test can be painful for some women (typically due to a medical condition), pain is not common. Most women will experience some pressure during the exam, but it is almost always tolerable. The patient will remove all clothing from the waist down and lie on a table. They will place their feet in stirrups. The doctor will use a speculum and insert it into the vagina. The doctor will lube up the speculum to make it more comfortable and then she will open up the vagina with it. She will then use a swab to obtain a sample of cervical mucus and cells after gently cleaning the cervix. Once the doctor gets an adequate sample, she will remove the speculum and the exam is over. In some cases, the doctor will also want to do a pelvic exam. When a Pap smear only is done, the entire process takes less than five minutes.

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    Resources

    American Academy of Family Physicians. (2010). Pap Smears. Retrieved on November 20, 2010 from FamilyDoctor.org: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/women/reproductive/gynecologic/138.html

    UpToDate. (2010). Cervical Cancer Screening Overview. Retrieved on November 20, 2010 from UpToDate: http://www.uptodate.com/patients/content/topic.do?topicKey=~bm.DzoCC2SGa5J