When it comes to your reproductive health, a Pap smear is a critical step in the early detection and prevention of cervical cancer, but it can also be a source of anxiety for many women.
You can reduce this stress by preparing for your Pap smear with a few tips for your pelvic exam, like scheduling it at the right time, knowing what to expect and using a modern speculum for improved comfort.
Step 1: Schedule Your Appointment
Your first step in preparing for a Pap smear is scheduling the appointment. You’ll want to choose an optimal time and day and know what age to schedule your first procedure. Here are a few tips for scheduling your Pap smear:
Are you over 21? You should schedule your first pelvic exam at age 21 or sooner if you experience irregular menstrual cycles or other reproductive health concerns. If you’ve just turned 21, it’s time to make your first Pap smear appointment.
Schedule around your period. The body is naturally much more sensitive during menstruation, so schedule your Pap smear when you’re not on your period. Your period can affect the test results, so it’s best to plan it when you’re not menstruating.
- Consider your provider. If you don’t have a preferred provider, you’ll need to find a gynecologist to perform your Pap. Look for a practitioner who meets your needs and you feel comfortable with.
For instance, consider whether they use a modern speculum for pelvic exams that can provide a comfortable experience. You can search our provider database to locate clinics that use the Nella disposable speculum for a less invasive experience during your Pap smear.
Step 2: Understand What to Expect
Knowing what to expect during a Pap smear can help reduce anxiety around the procedure. During the exam, your provider gently scrapes cells from your cervix to collect a sample of cells for laboratory testing.
The procedure involves using a speculum, an instrument designed to open the vaginal canal gently, allowing the collection of cells from the cervix. The cervical cells are sent to a lab where they are analyzed for abnormalities that could indicate cervical cancer, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or the human papillomavirus (HPV).
You may need further diagnostic tests if the Pap test results show abnormal cells. HPV testing can determine whether it is a high-risk strain that is more likely to lead to cervical cancer or one that might clear up on its own.
It’s common to feel some discomfort during a Pap smear. The traditional metal speculum may contribute to gynecologist anxiety or cause you to feel pressure or a scraping sensation when inserted. However, some providers use a modern speculum made with temperature-neutral material and a slim design. This can help make your Pap smear more relaxed and less stressful.
Step 3: Preparing Physically
When you’re getting ready for a Pap smear, a few physical preparations can help you feel comfortable and confident during the exam, including:
Dressing comfortably. Choose loose-fitting clothing for your pelvic exam. For instance, avoid tight-fitting jeans, leggings or intricate fastenings that might cause discomfort or make it hard to dress and undress. You can also wear comfy socks to keep your feet warm on the exam room floor and while your feet are in the stirrups.
Sexual activity. Avoid sexual intercourse for a couple of days before the test. Recent sexual activity can affect the cells in your cervix, so this helps ensure the most accurate results.
Step 4: Preparing Mentally
Preparing yourself mentally for a Pap smear is just as important as physical preparation. Here’s how you can set yourself up for a more relaxed experience:
- Practice relaxation techniques. Use mind-body calming techniques to relax during a pelvic exam. For example, engage in deep breathing or visualization to calm your mind. Focus on relaxing your pelvic muscles specifically for the pelvic exam for a less tense experience.
Bring a support person. Consider bringing someone you trust, like a friend or family member, for emotional support. Their presence can be reassuring during the exam.
Step 5: Day of the Appointment
On the day of your Pap smear, bring a valid ID and your insurance information. Plan to arrive early to accommodate any check-in procedures, which include filling out forms or verifying personal and insurance details.
Empty your bladder just before heading to your pelvic exam. This can reduce the feeling of fullness or pressure on your cervix, helping you feel more comfortable during the exam.
Once in the examination room, take a moment to settle in and familiarize yourself with the surroundings. Discuss questions or concerns with your provider before the exam starts. For instance, if you arranged it beforehand, confirm that they will be using the Nella speculum for a gentler experience.
Step 6: After the Procedure
After your Pap, your healthcare provider will tell you when to expect the results, typically in a few days to a few weeks. Make sure you know how they will contact you about what the test shows and ask what steps to take if there’s a delay.
Discuss the possibility of a false negative and what it means if the results are abnormal. This way, you’ll be prepared for any outcome.
Make Your Pap Smear More Comfortable With Nella
Pap smears are a crucial part of women’s health care. With Nella, you can take control of your comfort and help make the procedure as non-invasive as possible.
The Nella speculum is designed by women for women with a slim design, temperature-neutral materials and quiet construction. This means no more anxiety from clicking noises or cold, hard metal during your exam.
To get the Nella, consider speaking to your provider before your appointment or referring them to us. We can contact them to discuss using Nella in their office. You can also order Nella to your home and bring it to your Pap appointment for an easy, pain-free experience.