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5 Things to Know About Pap Smears

Cervical cancer is preventable — and receiving regular Pap tests is the best way to prevent it. Whether you’re a newbie or veteran, here are a few things to know about this simple, lifesaving screening.


1. A Pap smear and HPV are different.

Pap smears test for any abnormal cell changes in your cervix, which could lead to cervical cancer. HPV screening tests for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer. Starting at age 30, in addition to a pap smar, your healthcare provider will begin testing for HPV.

2. Pap smears don’t screen for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Pap smears don’t test for HPV or other STIs, like gonorrhea or chlamydia by default. If you want additional testing for STIs, be sure to ask your healthcare provider during your appointment.


3. Whether you’re sexually active or not, you still need a Pap smear.

Most cervical cancers are caused by HPV, which is sexually transmitted. However, not all cervical cancers stem from HPV, so Pap tests are necessary whether you’re sexually active or not.

4. A Pap smear is different from a pelvic exam.

Yes, they’re different — and yes, you need both.

  • A pelvic exam is typically performed at your annual well-woman visit with your healthcare provider. During this exam, they’ll check your vulva, vagina, cervix, ovaries, uterus, rectum and pelvis for any abnormalities.

  • A Pap smear specifically screens for precancerous changes. If you’re due for one, you can get a Pap smear during your annual pelvic exam.

5. You may want to reschedule your Pap smear if you’re on your period.

Technically, you can get a Pap smear while on your period, but depending on how heavy your flow is, it may affect the results of your screening. While a light flow may not be an issue, for the best results it may be better to reschedule to a time when you aren’t menstruating.

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