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Overdue for a Pap Test

It’s been a few days since my last Pap test, so I’m feeling very proud of myself (the doctor even gave me a Jelly Bean, so pats on the back for me!) The one prior – and only other Pap test I have ever had – was 5 years ago. Whoops. Better late than never though!

I’m sure I’m not then only person who knows they should get it done, and then doesn’t go, and keeps on putting it off – for years. For me the biggest “fear” for me is the unknown. You’d think after having two pregnancies, countless internal examinations – not to mention birthing baby – I’d be totally okay with hopping up on a doctor’s bed and getting a Pap test. Now it’s done I really don’t know what the big deal was!

So, I thought I’d put out a reminder and share some information that might put other women are ease and hopefully encourage anyone who’s overdue for one to get on to their GP or health nurse.

Firstly, what is a Pap test for?

A Pap test is to detect early changes in the cells collected from the cervix which if left untreated for years could develop into cervical cancer, regular pap test can prevent around 9 out of 10 cervical cancers. So it’s really important to get it done every 2 years.

Who should have a Pap test?

All women that have ever been sexually active, who are aged between 18 and 70, should have a Pap test every 2 years.

How to book an appointment?

You can see your regular GP, or see a different GP, you can request a female doctor or a women’s health nurse. If you’re unsure about where to go, you can call Cancer Council helpline on 13 11 20 and they can direct you to your nearest doctor who will be able to do a Pap test or if you’re in Victoria you can find a doctor online who can perform a Pap test.

It’s best to mention when making the appointment that it’s for a Pap smear, so they know how much time to allocate for your appointment.

Do you need to do anything to prepare for the appointment?

The most important thing is being comfortable. It’s not necessary to do anything to prepare yourself for the procedure, but if you’d feel more comfortable doing whatever personal grooming beforehand, then do – or not do – whatever it is that will make you feel most at ease.

I personally preferred wearing a long skirt and a jumper with a pocket, because then I just needed to remove my underwear before sitting up on the bed and popped my undies into my pocket – too easy! Though if you wear pants, the doctor will give you a sheet to lay over you instead.

Also try to have an empty bladder for the appointment, for your own comfort.

What to expect during the appointment?

Before you begin you can talk to the doctor or nurse about exactly what will happen during the procedure, what you need to do, get them to show you the instruments, and clear up any other concerns you might still have.

The doctor should talk you through the whole procedure and answer any questions you have anyway, this is just in my experience from the two Pap tests I’ve had.

You’ll be given some privacy to remove whatever garments you need to below the waist, then lay down on the bed and if you need to pull a sheet over your hips and legs – and let the doctor or nurse know you’re ready.

When you’re on the bed, bend your knees up and draw your feet up as close to your bottom as you can, you might be asked to make fists with both hands and then tuck your hands underneath your hips to tilt your pelvis up off the bed to allow the doctor a better angle to do the procedure. Then, when you’re ready, relax and let your knees fall to each side. Remember to breath and try to relax.

The doctor will insert a tool inside your vagina called a speculum, they’ll gently open your vagina and hold it into place – this is the most uncomfortable part of the procedure. It shouldn’t be painful, if it hurts, let them know, remembering you can ask them to stop at any time.

Hand holding a speculum
Speculum. Not as scary as it looks!

The next thing is they’ll take a long tool with some soft bristles on the end and use that to scrape your cervix to collect cells. Again, this shouldn’t hurt, but it does feel a bit unusual. The doctor will then remove the speculum.

The procedure itself should only take a couple of minutes, feels quite similar to an internal examination during pregnancy and labour.

Then you’ll be given some privacy to put your underwear back on.

What next?

The results take a week or two to come back, so you’ll need to return to the doctor to receive your results. Even if the results come back with abnormal cells, most likely that doesn’t even mean you have cervical cancer, but your doctor will advise you how to proceed and what treatment options are available.

If the results are normal you’ll need to return to have another Pap smear every 2 years.

Good luck! It’s really very straight forward and a little discomfort is worthwhile to help detect and prevent cervical cancer.

If you need any more information speak to your GP, women’s health nurse, or go to Papscreen.org.au  

When was your last Pap Smear?

About Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central Australia. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner.

She has a background in early childhood education, but right now is content to be a stay at home mum.

She is passionate about birthing rights, breastfeeding and mental health. She enjoys crafting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.

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