What to Expect for Your First Pap Smear

A Pap test is essential for safeguarding against cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections. However, undergoing a Pap test for the first time can be a frightening experience. If this is your first time taking a Pap test, then the following information will show you what to expect throughout the procedure.

Before the Pap Test

Unlike some other medical exams and procedures, you won't have to make any major preparations before your Pap test. However, it does help to avoid sexual intercourse for at least 24 hours prior to the exam. Your doctor may also recommend you refrain from using vaginal products, such as douches, tampons, and medicines for the same period.

Speaking of periods, it's also a good idea to schedule your Pap test during a time when you're not having your period. Heavy bleeding can cause irregularities in the test results that could lead to a false positive, so it's usually best to wait until the flow lightens or stops completely before going ahead with the Pap test.

During the Pap Test

Shortly before the test begins, you'll be given a hospital gown and asked to remove your clothes from the waist down. Once you've disrobed, your doctor or nurse will ask you to sit on the examination table and lie back. The table will have a set of stirrup-style foot rests that'll you'll place your feet on once you're on your back. When you're in position, your doctor or nurse will start the procedure by examining your external genitalia's appearance for any abnormalities.

Afterwards, the examiner will be ready to examine your cervix and collect the samples needed for the Pap test. For this, your examiner has to insert a specialized instrument called a speculum into your vagina. This may seem a bit uncomfortable and a bit embarrassing at first, but it's a necessary part of the examination. The speculum is designed to hold the walls of the vagina apart so that your examiner can have a clear view of the cervix. Metal speculums are commonly used, but a growing number of doctors are using plastic speculums that are not only disposable but also cause less discomfort.

Once the speculum is in place, your examiner will take a tissue sample from the exterior of the cervix and another sample from the cervical canal. The exterior samples are usually taken with a spatula-like tool, while the cervical-canal samples are taken using a brush. You may experience some slight discomfort, especially if you have a particularly sensitive cervix. However, there are usually no major issues or side effects to be concerned about.

After this takes place, your examiner may perform a brief pelvic examination before removing the speculum. The collected tissue samples are usually transferred onto a glass slide or placed in a special preserving liquid for later testing.

After the Pap Test

The tissue samples are later transferred to a pathology lab where s technician can examine the cells under a microscope for any abnormalities that could indicate a precancerous condition or an actual cancer. The technicians may be able to conduct additional tests depending on the method used to transfer the tissue sample. For instance, a sample placed in a liquid solution allows technicians to perform additional tests for gonorrhea and chlamydia.

Keep in mind that it might take a while to get your test results. According to the Office on Women's Health, it could take anywhere from one to three weeks to receive your results. If you receive abnormal results, your doctor may have you schedule another test in case the previous test indicated a false positive. If further testing indicates a positive result for abnormal cells, you'll be able to take the necessary precautions to treat these abnormal cells and prevent the occurrence of a cancer.

Talk to a practitioner of obstetrics and gynecology in your area for more information.