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How to prepare for your Cervical Screening or Pap Test

Thanks to vaccination and screening, Cervical Cancer should be almost entirely preventable. Vaccination prevents infection with the most common cancer-causing strains of HPV, the virus responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer. Cervical screening (or Pap test or Pap test or Pap smear as it is known) is a test that detects changes to the cells of the cervix, often caused by prolonged HPV infection, and allows abnormalities to be treated before becoming cancerous. Regular cervical screening is the number one way to prevent cervical cancer.

There are two cervical cancer vaccines Gardasil® and Cervarix® which guard against up to 90% of the HPV infections that can cause cervical cancer as well as other cancers in men and women.

Pap Smears (or Cervical Screening)

HPV is a common virus that can cause changes to cells in your cervix, which in rare cases can develop into cervical cancer.

Planning or going for a cervical screening (also known as a PapTest) can be daunting. It’s one of the most intimate examinations you can receive from your GP, but it’s also one of the most important. A simple examination could save your life.

Schedule your appointment at any time in the month when you aren’t having your period. Your GP will most likely ask you about your last period, when it began and its duration, and also if you are using contraception which type of pills or method you use. It is good to write down any questions or concerns you have so you remember to mention them.

Feel free to bring a friend or relative you trust along as a support person if you wish to. On the day wear a top and skirt or similar as your doctor practice nurse will ask you to remove your clothing from the waist down so that they can examine you.

What to expect when going for a Cervical Screening Test (Pap Smear or Pap Test)

A Pap Test is a relatively simple procedure that can be over and done with in just a few minutes and should not be painful. Empty your bladder for comfort prior to the procedure. Your doctor will ask you to remove your clothing from the waist down and lie on your back or side. It is likely your doctor will give you a sheet to cover your stomach and thighs to make you feel more comfortable. When you are ready, your doctor will ask you to bend your knees so they can insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum will usually be plastic and holds the walls of the vagina open allowing a clear view of the cervix. This part of the exam can feel slightly uncomfortable or awkward as there may be some pressure on your pelvic area but shouldn’t be painful. If you do feel any pain let your doctor know and they can adjust the speculum. Your doctor will then use a spatula or brush to gently collect a swab from the cervix. The cells collected on the swab are then sent off to a lab for examination to check for the presence of any cervical abnormalities.

And that’s it! You can go about your day. The exam doesn’t prevent any activity afterwards. You may have slight spotting after the test, however if you have any pain or heavy bleeding after the test then it is best to let your doctor know.

For many women it is important that they feel comfortable with the person who will be doing the Pap Test. Take your time to find a GP or Practice Nurse  that you feel comfortable with and make sure you share any concerns or worries you have about the procedure or about your reproductive health or anatomy. Try not to be shy or embarrassed about any question you might have, no doubt the doctor or practice nurse has been asked many times before and they can set your mind at ease.

A couple of minutes could literally save your life. 

Pap Tests – when to get one and what to expect

Pap Tests (or Cervical screenings) can be awkward and uncomfortable, especially if you don’t know what will happen when you do.

However, as many women who have died from Cervical Cancer have not kept up to date with their pap-tests, it is extremely important to make sure this potentially lifesaving test is not put off for too long.

The NHS recommends that all women who are registered with a GP should aim to have a cervical screening done:

  • aged 25 to 49– every three years
  • aged 50 to 64– every five years
  • over 65– only women who haven’t been screened since age 50 or those who have recently had abnormal tests

Pap Tests are nicer with the Comfort Checklist!

UK Cervical Cancer has developed a new woman-focused “comfort checklist” for cervical screening.

Comfort Checklist objectives:

  • Increase awareness and understanding of the need for regular screening amongst women.
  • Increase the likelihood of cervical screening being perceived as a “comfortable” procedure and positive experience.
  • Include ways to overcome barriers to improve screening adherence.