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Current Pap Smear Guidelines

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

You may have wondered what exactly your provider is looking for when they offer you a pap smear. Or, like me, maybe you spent a couple very awkward pap experiences not even truly understanding what the heck was happening down there and just wished the time would go faster.

We deserve information, ladies! So first, a little background in case you've never truly known:

What is a Pap Smear?

A pap smear is a test that involves your provider, often utilizing a speculum in order to find the cervix itself, taking a small sample of cells from your cervix (usually using a small spatula-or-broom-like instrument- unfortunate analogies, I know) and using those cell samples to be sent to a lab to be smeared (pap *smear," not like what goes on a bagel, although I kinda like that better) on a slide and checked under a microscope.

Some things clinicians are looking/testing for-

  • Changes that can result from cancer,

  • Precancerous cells

  • HPV, Human Papillomavirus

  • Inflammation (Some types of infections can be found via this test.)

There is also available testing + co-testing specifically for HPV, which is a very commonly sexually transmitted infection, depending on sexual partners and history. This infection can potentially lead to cervical cancer, which is why it is included in options for cervical health screenings.

How Often Do You Need a Pap Smear?

While many of us grew up assuming a pap smear was a yearly to-do to check off your list, this is not the case! While only you get to decide truly if, when and how often you would like (or not like) this type of screening depending on your own personal risk factors, there are some general guidelines out there to help you navigate some options. Below are the recommendations from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, for your viewing pleasure.

general cervical health guidelines for pap smear graphic

How to Have a Better Pap:

If pap smears are synonymous with disdain and confusion, embarrassment or just straight torture...this does not have to be the case! Informed consent is still owed to you in every situation, even if it feels like an uncomfortable one.

Any care provider who is about to perform a procedure in your vagina should be prepared to explain to you ahead of time how they are going to give safe, respectful and gentle care- with your permission!

Here are some keys to informed consent during a pap:

  1. Know your personal risk factors, testing options and past results to make an informed decision about screening.

  2. Understand the procedure and ask questions until you feel comfortable with it.

  3. Personally allow those procedures to begin by verbally consenting to being touched and giving permission for the speculum to be inserted.

  4. Be in control of what happens during the procedure, by saying "stop", "no" or "slower" as needed.

  5. Find out how long you should wait for results, how they will be shared with you and what to expect moving forward depending on the results.

We've had handfuls of women come in to our practice for a pap smear who have shared that simple informed consent, slowing down the process, and explaining every piece along the way has healed trauma, changed their outlooks on female health, and helped them desire to demand more from other providers. And wow do we love to hear it and witness that transformation!

Making Paps Better one Midwifery Visit at a Time

‍We quite enjoy raising the bar around here, as you have likely noticed. Here are some incredibly simple ways we are calling out the standard of care for clinical paps and trying to make it a thousand times better:

  • We show women all the tools we use and how we use them before they consent.

  • We explain the procedure and what we are collecting and why.

  • We describe the pressure they will feel and where.

  • We offer women the option to insert or hold their own speculum so they are in control of the pressure and opening.

  • We provide privacy, informed consent, patience, lots of time and eye contact (imagine that)!

  • We’ve got warm gel and friendly faces! (We don’t have stirrups or paper gowns)

  • We share the current gynecological guidelines that usually surprise women how often they DON’T actually need a pap

Who doesn't want that experience over the alternative??

Did you know midwives offer well-woman exams? Annual bloodwork, routine physicals and paps are available in our office. We want as many women as possible to experience safe, respectful and gentle care. Take a closer look at our offerings HERE.

Although we are licensed midwives by profession, we are not YOUR midwives. All content and information on this website is for informational and educational purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice. Although we strive to provide accurate general information, the information presented here is not a substitute for any kind of professional advice. For more information, click here.

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