Why Do We Need Pap Smears?

Q: Why do we need pap tests?!

A: To protect yourself against developing cervical cancer!

To prevent getting cervical cancer doctors recommend women should start having regular pap tests (every two years) when they turn 18 or every two years after they become sexually active, which ever happens first.

Remember sexual activity includes genital skin on skin contact, not just sexual intercourse, so even if you haven’t had sex you may still need to get a pap test.

Once you start having pap tests, you need to keep having them every two years, even if:

  • You have received the cervical cancer vaccine (learn more about HPV and the vaccine here!)
  • You’ve only been sexually active once
  • You’ve only had one sexual partner
  • You’re no longer sexually active
  • You’re a lesbian
  • You’ve gone through menopause
Let’s Do This Thing

Although slightly awkward, (just remember every gal has to do it!) the actual pap test is very simple. A nurse or doctor will ask you to remove your pants and lie on your back with your knees up and apart. They will take a sample of cells from your cervix (the top part of your vagina) using a swab stick and smear them on a glass slide. Easy! Done! The slide is then sent to the laboratory and the test is completed there. Results usually take one to two weeks to be sent back to you or your doctor.

Image from www.plannedparenthood.org

Most pap test results are normal however sometimes tests will show changes to the cells. Often these changes are caused by infections and are cleared up with treatment from your doctor or even naturally.

In a very small number of cases, changes to the cells of the cervix can lead to cervical cancer if left untreated. This is why doctors recommend getting a pap test every two years, so that any changes can be detected and treated early!