Best Time in Your Cycle for a Pap Smear

Gynecologist holding eqiuptment for a pap smear
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According to the American Cancer Society, the best time for a Pap smear (also known as a Pap test) is at least five days prior to the start of your period. It is not recommended to undergo a Pap smear during your period. This is because menstrual fluid and blood may make it difficult for the pathologist to interpret your results. That being said, if the flow is light, some doctors will still perform a Pap smear. In fact, newer, liquid-based Pap smears can separate cervical cells from mucus and blood, allowing for a more accurate reading.

If You Start Your Period

If you have started your period unexpectedly or find that you have scheduled your Pap during a time of the month when you may have your period, call your doctor's office. Ask to speak to a nurse or the doctor and inform them that your Pap smear will coincide with your period.

You may be asked to reschedule or you might be told to keep your appointment. In the latter case, the doctor will most likely check to see whether the flow is light enough to proceed with the test.

A Pap smear can technically be done during your period, but it's best to avoid this scenario—when possible—in order to improve the accuracy of your test results. Most importantly, don't avoid having the test done altogether. It's much better to have a Pap smear at a less-than-optimal time than not at all.

And once you do complete your Pap smear, don't leave the doctor's office without scheduling your next one. Ask your doctor about how often you should have one. The answer will depend on a few factors, including your age, your overall health, and findings from previous Pap smears. Learn more about the specific guidelines.

What Else to Think About When Scheduling

It is also suggested that women avoid having anything in the vagina 48 hours prior to a Pap smear. This includes:

  • Sexual intercourse
  • Spermicides, foams, or jellies
  • Douching
  • Vaginal inserts
  • Tampons

All of these things above can make it difficult for the pathologist to accurately interpret Pap smear results.

When to Schedule If You're Post-Menopausal

It is a common misconception that women who have gone through menopause no longer need regular Pap smears. Post-menopausal women may still need Pap smears. Those who still require Pap smears can have the test performed at any time during the month, as post-menopausal women no longer menstruate.

When You Can Stop Getting Pap Smears

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), women can stop cervical cancer screenings after the age of 65, although this is a personal decision that should be discussed carefully with a doctor first. Your doctor will want to ensure that you have had a recent series of normal Pap smears before giving you the OK to stop having screenings.​

Some women may need to continue to be screened after the age of 65, depending on their risk factors (for example, having a history of cervical cancer or moderate-to-severe abnormal cervical cells). 

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