I don’t know a woman alive who doesn’t cringe or go a little pale and quiet when they hear the word “pap smear” – that’s certainly my reaction!
The thought of it sends me into a little bit of a panic, even though I try to act really nonchalant about it on the outside. To my friends, I’m like – “Yeah, going to have a pap smear today – pfft!” – in the same sort of tone as if I was to say “Yeah, I’m going shopping today.” You always get that knowing, sympathetic look from other women though…always!
Honestly, I have pushed two watermelon-sized heads out of my vagina (i.e my beautiful big-headed babies!) but I still can’t deal with the whole pap smear thing! It’s not that it hurts particularly, but it’s just the whole procedure that really just makes me extremely uncomfortable – the whole speculum thingy and just the fact that it’s a foreign object being put somewhere that it really shouldn’t be put (although I guess there are some people who do like that sort of thing, but that’s another story for a completely different website to this altogether!)
Anyway, all that being said, I diligently go to my GP every two years and lie on the little bed with my undies off and a sheet (with soccer-ball motifs – WTF?) on my legs with my pink bits displayed to the world (well the doctor, but it feels like the world!). I keep telling myself that despite this being something I dread, I would prefer it to the alternative of not having regular pap smears. When you put it all into perspective, it’s really not THAT bad and I think I’d rather be a woman and have that done than a man and have my prostate checked (if you know what I mean!). I encourage every woman to have regular pap smears, and here’s some information you should all read!
What is a Pap Smear?
Pap smear is a screening tool (named after Dr Papanicolaou who discovered it in 1928) used to check changes in the cervix. It detects early (pre-cancerous) changes in cervical cells, but is not a diagnostic tool for cancer. If changes are found, it indicates the need for further diagnostic procedures to determine whether or not the changes are cancerous in nature.
The pap smear is a very simple procedure carried out by your GP (or women’s health nurse). You will be asked some health-related questions by your doctor (mostly family health history, about your period, sexual partners and any symptoms you may have found unusual) and also have a quick blood pressure check.
Then you will be asked to remove your clothes from the waist down (everything!) and lie on a bed – you should be given privacy (a curtain and a sheet). The doctor will then put on some surgical gloves (and make sure they do!) and ask you to place your feet flat on the bed with your knees bent and then open your legs.
Then comes the cringy part! The doctor will insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina (cervix) and secure it. The best thing you can do while this is happening is relax, otherwise, it will feel more uncomfortable than it should! Take slow deep breaths and try and make small talk with your doctor or just think of nice things. The doctor will then insert a swab and take some cells from your cervix. The cells are smeared onto a pathology slide which is then sent to a laboratory where the cells are tested.
If abnormal changes are found at screening, further tests will be done to see if treatment is needed. It does not detect ovarian cancer or any other cancers of the reproductive system, only changes in the cervix. The whole pap smear procedure only takes a few minutes. Sometimes, you might have some light spotting afterwards or a little bit of an uncomfortable feeling in your lower abdomen, but this will pass within a few hours. If you do experience severe pain or heavy bleeding after a pap smear, then please go back to your GP immediately!
Should I be worried about Cervical Cancer?
Yes! Treatment of cervical cancer is more difficult the more progressed the cancer is. More often than not, cervical cancer has no symptoms in the early stages and can be quite aggressive and fast moving. All women who have ever had sex (even once!) are at risk of developing cervical cancer. The risk of this increases as you get older and with the more sexual partners/activity you have had. One of the main causes of cervical cancer is the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – a sexually transmitted infection which in most cases is cleared by the body’s immune system within 8-14 months. The presence of HPV may be detected by the pap smear and some women who have persistent infections of HPV may develop abnormalities of the cervix, including pre-cancerous cells. Even women who have gone through menopause or who have had a hysterectomy are still at risk and should continue to have regular pap smears.
How effective is the Pap Smear?
According to the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, it is recommended that all women over 18 years of age who have ever been sexually active (even if it is months or years in between “bonk sessions”!) should have a pap smear.
This can help to prevent up to 90% of common cervical cancers. There are some instances where an insufficient sample is taken or a false test result comes back – in this case, you will simply be asked to go in for a repeat pap smear.
So, in a nutshell, the best thing to do for your health and also for your family, is to spare a few minutes every two years and have the smear done. It’s better to have a little discomfort than to suffer cancer and leave your kids without a mum! Oh and while you’re at it – get your boobies checked too!
SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at time of publication.