Common Pap Smear Mistakes

The Pap smear is a highly effective means of preventing cervical cancer and maintaining a healthy cervix, but its success heavily relies on its accuracy. While the use of newer, liquid-based Pap smears yields more precise results, there are things women can do to help make these results even more accurate.

Avoid Sex, Douching, and Vaginal Inserts Before a Pap Smear

Woman talking to female doctor in exam room
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The general rule of thumb is not to have anything in the vagina for 24 to 48 hours before having a Pap smear. It can mask abnormal cells, possibly causing an inaccurate Pap smear result. To yield the most accurate results, it is best to avoid these activities.

If you do have intercourse, douche, or use anything in the vagina before a Pap smear, let your doctor know. More than likely the Pap can be done, but the doctor may want to reschedule depending on the circumstances.

Avoid Scheduling Your Appointment at the Wrong Time of the Month

Did you know that there is an optimum time of the month to have a Pap smear? The best time to have a Pap is 10 to 20 days after the start of your last period. This time of the month allows the doctor to take the best sample for accurate reading by a cytologist.

You also want to avoid scheduling your Pap while you are menstruating. Although the test can be done, it is best to wait for it to ​avoid the chance of inaccurate results. Plus, some women may feel uncomfortable having a Pap smear while menstruating.

Not Having a Pap Smear Regularly

Although having a regular Pap smear doesn't directly affect how accurate the results will be, it will give doctors a history to compare current results. A regular Pap smear is a highly effective way to prevent cervical cancer. A Pap smear can detect abnormal changes to the cervix long before they become cancerous. The key to its effectiveness, however, is to have one done regularly. Unfortunately, too many women don't have a Pap smear done often enough or don't get one at all.

Neglecting to Mention Previous Abnormal Pap Results

Your doctor needs to know if you have had previous abnormal Pap smears. Let her know when the abnormal Pap smear occurred, the exact results, and the results of any subsequent Pap smears. Be sure to also tell your doctor if you have had a colposcopy, biopsy or any treatment related to an abnormal Pap smear. If you have copies of previous Pap smears, colposcopy exams, biopsy, or treatment records, bring them with you to the appointment.

Not Following Up With a Doctor's Recommendations

If you have had an abnormal Pap smear, it is essential to follow-up per your doctor's recommendations. Recommendations following an abnormal Pap may mean repeating the Pap smear, getting an HPV test, and/or having a colposcopy. Follow-up procedures vary, depending on the results of the Pap smear.

If you have had a procedure to treat cervical dysplasia, such as a LEEP, it is just as crucial to follow up with regular cervical exams. Cervical dysplasia can return, even if treatment is complete. Regular cervical exams are the only way to monitor for abnormal cervical changes.

Not Knowing How Pap Smear Results Will Be Communicated

Ask your doctor how she will notify you of the results before you get a Pap smear. You can ask the doctor right before she begins the Pap smear, or speak with one of the medical assistants before you leave.

Many doctor's offices relay normal results by mail or phone if the results are abnormal. Some doctors do not contact patients if results are normal. Every office is different, so be sure to ask.

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