Straight Talk about Pap Smears

by Whitney Ward, Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, Women’s Health

Let’s face it. Going to the gynecologist can be intimidating. Women all over the world agonize over their yearly visit, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Knowing and understanding why a Pap smear and yearly exam are so important can ease a woman’s anxiety and fear over the exam process. Read on to get the basic information you need — and share it with a friend!

Cervical cancer is the easiest gynecologic cancer to prevent. Regular screening should begin at age 21 and continue until at least age 65. The Pap smear (named after Dr. George Papanicolaou) looks for precancers or cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately. Many times, if a test is abnormal, a test to check for HPV (human papilloma virus) will also be performed. Getting vaccinated against the HPV virus can also lower your risk for cervical cancer. The results of these tests will let your provider know what course of treatment is right for you.

During the exam, your provider will insert a speculum into your vagina that allows him or her to have a good view of your cervix. The cervix is located at the top of the vagina and is the opening to the uterus (womb).   A brush will be used to collect a sampling of cells from the inside and outside of the cervix. This may be a little uncomfortable, but not painful. It’s important to let your provider know if you are having pain with the exam at any time. The cells are then transferred to a vial of liquid and sent to the lab for evaluation. If an abnormality is found, your provider will decide the most appropriate treatment plan. Following up with your provider is of utmost importance, as early detection and treatment can prevent cervical cancer from developing.

So relax! Make an appointment today to see your provider. You can even use the buddy system and make a friend or relative schedule their visit at the same time! Be open and honest at your visit. Ask questions and share your anxieties.   It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself and your health.

Whitney Ward is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse at Renaissance Women’s Healthcare Partners, a MANA Clinic. Whitney provides care for young women and adult women. She loves getting to know her patients and helping them learn about their health. If you would like to schedule a wellness exam with Whitney, call 479-582-3366.