Is Pap Smear Painful?
Pap smears should not hurt or cause significant pain. For patients who are receiving their first Pap smear, it may be slightly uncomfortable, similar to any new sensation which is unfamiliar to your body. Patients often report that Pap smears feel similar to a small pinch, however, everyone’s tolerance and threshold for pain can differ. In addition, there are additional underlying factors which can result in one patient experiencing more discomfort than their peers.
This article will review why Pap smears are done, what to expect, methods for minimizing discomfort, and other frequent questions.
When considering if you need a Pap smear, the answer is likely a resounding yes. Pap smears are able to detect precancerous cells on the cervix. As a result, this aids in the prevention of cervical cancer. While cervical cancer is most frequently caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), patients should receive a routine Pap smear, even if they are not sexually active.
For patients who have had a hysterectomy, a regular Pap smear may still be required. Discuss this with your doctor as it will depend on whether the cervix was removed and whether you are at risk for certain types of cancer. Regular Pap smears may also be required after going through menopause. As always. It is best to speak with your doctor or healthcare provider regarding whether or not a Pap smear is necessary.
In most cases, a Pap smear is completed to identify the presence of abnormal cervical cells. If abnormal cells are detected, the healthcare provider may need to complete additional testing to determine if the cells are cancerous. In the event it is necessary, the doctor will recommend a procedure which destroys the abnormal cells and helps to reduce the risk for cervical cancer.
Pap smears are different from a pelvic exam. However, it is common for doctors to perform Pap smears simultaneously with pelvic exams. A pelvic exam involves observing and completing an examination of the reproductive organ. This includes the vagina, vulva, cervix, ovaries, and uterus. The doctor typically completes a visual inspection of the vulva and vaginal opening. They are looking for signs of unusual discharge, redness, or irritation. The doctor will then insert an instrument called a speculum into the vagina. This instrument allows them to inspect the inside of the vagina. They are checking for cysts, swelling, or any other types of abnormalities.
Two gloved fingers may also be inserted into the vagina and the doctor will press on the abdomen. This is called a manual exam and is used to look for any abnormalities of the uterus or ovaries.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends receiving a Pap smear at the following intervals based on the age of the patient:
- Under 21: not required
- 21-29: Pap smear every three years.
- 30-65: Pap smear and HPV test every five years
- Patients who have a weakened immune system or HIV should have more frequent Pap smears. Work with your doctor to determine the recommended testing frequency.
Pap smears can also be completed more often, if preferred.
It is possible for HPV to remain dormant for years and unexpectedly appear. While it is rare, there are other causes for cervical cancer other than HPV. There are no specific guidelines on the recommended frequency for pelvic exams. In most cases, it is suggested to have a yearly pelvic exam beginning at age 21. In some cases, the patient may have a medical reason to begin pelvic exams earlier. For example, the provider may complete a pelvic exam prior to writing a prescription for birth control.