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Pap Smear FAQ

When do I need to start getting Pap smears? 

  • 21 years – Cervical cancer screening should begin at age 21 years.  This is based on the very low incidence of cancer and a potential for adverse effects associated with follow up of these young women. 

    • If your pap smear is normal, you may not need to have another PAP smear for 3 to 5 years, depending on your age and the results of other recommended tests. Historically the pap smear has been an analysis of cells only, but new technology detects the genetic material of the human papilla virus. Depending on your age, an added test to detect HPV may be done. If you are 30 or older, you may have a pap test and an HPV test. If both these tests are negative, then you may go 5 years in between pap smears.


What is the difference between a Pap smear and a Well Woman’s Visit?

You should schedule a Well Woman's Visit to check your overall physical health. A pap smear is done as part of a Well Woman’s Visit when indicated (see above) and screens for cervical cancer.


Does it hurt?

A pap smear should only take a few minutes. Some parts of the exam may be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful. If it hurts, be sure to tell your health care provider, who may be able to adjust things to help you be more comfortable.

This exam is for you, so don’t be afraid to speak up and do whatever helps you relax. Some patients find that breathing slowly and deeply while relaxing their abdomen helps. Others like to listen to their music on a personal music device during the exam. Some want to the health care provider to describe each step. Be sure to do and communicate what you think will help you the most.


What is a Pap smear?

A cervical cancer screening test looking for abnormal cells or changes to the cervix.


How much does it cost?

A visit to your provider is covered by the Campus Health fee, but any tests provided during the exam, including the pap, will be billed to your insurance. Therefore the cost to you will vary based on your plan.


Are sexually transmitted infection tests or a pregnancy test be included in a Pap smear exam?

A Pap Smear screens for the effects of HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) in cervical cells. Screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or pregnancy is not always done, however STI testing and pregnancy tests can be included in the visit when desired or indicated.

FYI: yearly Chlamydia screening is recommended for sexually active women aged 16-24.


Are there any side effects from a Pap smear?

Some people may experience mild cramping and spotting for a few hours after the exam.


How long does it take to get a Pap smear?

The actual pap smear should take only a few minutes. The entire exam- including health history, questions, and any other exams done during your visit (such as breast cancer screening, STI tests, or a bi-manual exam) means the overall visit will likely take about 30 minutes.


How do I prepare myself for an exam?

  • Plan ahead. You should schedule the exam when you are not on your period.
  • Do not use any vaginal product (such as creams, lubricants or douches) or have intercourse for 1-2 days prior to the test
  • Make a list of any questions you may have
  • Bring a friend if that would make you more comfortable.  Anti-anxiety medications may be available if requested prior to the appointment. 
  • You are encouraged to empty your bladder prior to the pelvic exam.


Who will be collecting my Pap smear?

Trained medical providers in Women’s Health Clinic or Primary Care Clinics are available to provide care.  Discuss with the appointment schedulers whether you have a preference of male or female provider.

For more information, see the pap smear video.