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What's a Pap Smear, and does it hurt?

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Anonymous asks:

What exactly is a Pap smear? And does it hurt (because I heard it does)?

Susie replies:

The Papanicolaou test, more easily pronounced "Pap smear," is a test that checks to see whether there are any abnormal growths on your uterine cervix.

Your clinician takes a small brush or swab and sweeps a sample off the tip of your cervix. The lab checks the sample to see if there are any abnormal or cancerous cells in the smear. Cell abnormalities can eventually develop into cancers if left unchecked; oftentimes, these abnormal cells are the result of sexually-transmitted HPV infection. That's why it's so important to get annual Pap smears once you become sexually active. Pap smears can also help your healthcare provider be on the lookout for other kinds of infections.

Do Pap smears hurt? Not really. I mean, it's not as delightful as getting a foot massage. But it's not like the UN will ban it for being like torture.

Pap smears are done as part of a pelvic exam. Pelvic exams include checking the interior of your vagina for problems, checking on the condition of your ovaries, swabbing for chlamydia and gonorrhea and sometimes include a rectal exam and breast check. The doctor has to insert a speculum to open the vagina for inspection. This can be uncomfortable for girls who are nervous and tense. So, if you can relax, it's not bad at all. The swab itself is not painful and often doesn't feel more than a gentle poke or swipe. However, because the doctor's sweeping some stuff off your cervix, it can result in a day or three of light spotting.

written 10 Mar 2008 . updated 27 Jan 2014

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