For most women, having their first pelvic exam, including a Pap smear test, can be a nerve-wracking and apprehensive experience. 

Even though this test is quick, painless, and the most accurate way to screen for cervical cancer and HPV, the uncertainty of what it all entails can still leave many questions. To alleviate emerging concerns, here are some essential aspects to know before your initial examination.

What Is a Pap test?

A pap smear (also known as a pap test or pelvic exam) is a procedure to detect or identify the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix, which is the gateway to the womb from the vagina. 

The early detection of abnormal cervical cancer cells through this test is a first step in halting the development of cervical cancer and allows a greater chance at a cure. 

It is recommended for women starting at the age of 25, with regular checkups scheduled every 3 years, extending to every 5 years once you reach the age of 50. If you are under 25 and concerned about your risk of cervical cancer, you can consult your GP to arrange an appointment for guidance.

What to expect for your first pap smear test?

The procedure begins with a nurse or general practitioner asking you to undress below the waist and lay down on an examination table where a paper sheet is already positioned over you. 

Next, when you are comfortable, you’ll be asked to put your feet on the stirrups attached to the table at a 90-degree angle, allowing you to move your legs. 

This will allow the nurse gently insert a lubricated tool called a speculum into your vagina. It looks similar to a duck bill and is used to spread the vagina slightly so the nurse can collect a sample of cells from your cervix with a small soft brush for laboratory testing. 

How long does it last?

The screening appointment shouldn’t last more than 20 minutes, with the pap smear test procedure taking approximately 3 minutes. The remainder of your appointment will be dedicated to a discussion about your concerns and the explanation of the process by the nurse. 

Don’t worry, feeling a little nervous is completely normal, and the nurse or general practitioner will understand this and wait for you to get as comfortable as possible. 

How often must I have a pap smear test?

Now that your first pap smear test is behind you, phew! We hope it wasn’t as daunting as you might have anticipated, was it? Usually, it is recommended for women to have a pap smear test every three years. 

However, this recommendation is based on the assumption that the test results show normal results. If the results reveal abnormal cells, a retest will be necessary shortly after the initial screening. 

Just remember that abnormal cells don’t always indicate cervical cancer, and they can often be treated promptly and painlessly.