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What should I expect during a Pap smear?

During a Pap test you may feel a little pressure in your pelvic area and possibly mild cramping that lasts for just a few minutes. After a Pap test, you may experience a small amount of bleeding.

A Pap test is a laboratory exam that screens for cervical cancer. Cells are collected from your cervix during a pelvic exam. While you are lying on your back, your doctor will insert a plastic or metal device called a speculum into your vagina. Some speculums are metal and may feel cold when inserted into your vagina, but at most medical facilities the speculum is warmed before insertion. The speculum opens up the vagina to allow the doctor to see the inside of the vagina and cervix clearly. You may feel a small amount of pressure when the speculum is inserted.

Your doctor will then insert a tiny brush or spatula to collect cells from the surface of the cervix. You may feel a little bit of cramping during this part of the exam. Those cells will then be sent to a laboratory for examination.

During a Pap smear, you will need to remove all of your clothing from the waist down. A female staff member will be with you during the test. You will lie on an exam table on your back with a sheet over your hips and legs, put your feet in holders called stirrups, and let your knees fall to the side. Your doctor or nurse will place an instrument called a speculum in your vagina so they can see the cervix. The cervix is scraped gently with a small soft brush to obtain a sample of cells, which are sent to the lab to be checked for cancer or other problems.

The Pap test is quick and most often done as part of a complete pelvic exam. Sometimes there is a small amount of discomfort for you.

Pap smears can be scary for young women but are a part of routine care and nothing to be concerned about. Pap smears are completed during a women's annual physical, so your doctor will ask you many questions about your menstrual and sexual health. Your doctor will then have you change into a paper gown. Most of the time this includes taking off all of your clothes, including your bra and underwear, as doctors most often perform a breast exam during these physicals as well. Your doctor will then ask you to lie down on the exam table, place your feet into the stirups and  relax your legs out to the sides. This will allow your doctor to exam the vaginal area for any irritation. Your doctor will then place into the vagina a speculum, which is a plastic or metal device with a light, in order to look at the vaginal canal and the cervix, which is at the end of uterus. Your doctor will then use a brush to obtain some cells from the cervix and then remove the speculum. The cells sample will be sent to the lab. Next your doctor will perform a bimanual exam during which he or she will place two gloved fingers into the vagina and the other gloved hand on the stomach in order to feel the size of the uterus and ovaries. This will be the end of the Pap smear and you can get dressed.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.