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Do pap smears hurt? Plus other FAQs

The information provided herein does not constitute an expert or medical advice, nor intended to replace such advice.

Women Health



Written by Hannah Kingston on August 23th, 2021

A pap smear is a test that is used to to test for cervical cancer in women. A collection of cells are collected from the cervix. These cells are used to identify the risk of a woman developing cervical cancer in the future. 

Almost 15,000 cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2021, according to the American Cancer Society

Do pap smears hurt?

Pap smears shouldn’t hurt. 

Really it depends on your personal pain threshold.

If you are getting a pap smear for the first time, it may feel more uncomfortable. Most people who get a pap smear describe is as a little pinch, other just feel embarrassed by the prospect. 

There are also certain health conditions that may make a pap smear more painful for some. It’s important to talk through your concerns with a health professional so they can tailor your experience to make you feel as comfortable as possible. 

You shouldn’t let the idea of a pap smear potentially hurting put you off. Your healthcare provider will help to put your mind at ease. If the prospect of getting a pap smear is intimidating to you, there are also now a number of at home HPV tests that are available, so you can get tested without needing to leave the home. 

When should you get a pap smear?

  • From the age of 21-29, you should get a pap smear every three years. 
  • From the age of 30-65, you should get a pap smear every three years, alternatively you can get a HPV test every five years.
  • From the 65 and older, consult with your health-care provider as to whether or not you need to get regular pap smears. 

Under the age of 21, you are not required to undergo pap smears or HPV tests. 

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What do pap smears tell us?

Pap smears are used to identify precancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix. Detecting cervical cancer early, or identifying precancerous cells gives health professionals the best opportunity to set out a treatment plan. 

A pap smear is different to a HPV test and a pelvic examination. 

A HPV test identifies HPV infection. Certain strains of HPV may lead to the development of cervical cancer. It is possible to co-test using a pap smear as well as a HPV test. HPV tests are recommended in those 30 years and older. 

A pelvic exam involves examining the reproductive organs including the vagina, vulva, cervix, ovaries and uterus. 

The results you receive from a pap smear will either be normal, abnormal or inconclusive. Healthcare professionals may look for signs of infection or normalities through some common symptoms such as irritation, inflammation, redness or abnormal swelling. 

What is involved in a pap smear?

The good news is that pap smears generally take just a few minutes! 

Before attending a pap smear, you should avoid having sex, douching (vaginal washing) or the use of any lubricants. If possible, go for your pap smear when you are not on your period or this could lead to your results coming back as inconclusive. 

Here’s how a pap smear works: 

1. You will be asked to remove your pants and lie down flat on your back with your feet in a stirrups.

2. Your doctor will insert an instrument called a speculum into the vagina, this allows them to easily inset the swab used to collect cells. 

3. Your doctor will collect cells from the cervix using a soft brush and a soft scraping tool called a spatula

4. You’re done! There is no after-care required and you can easily go about your day following the testing procedure. 

The length of time it takes to receive your results will depend on each provider so ask your health-care provider how long the results may take. 

It is understandable that going for a pap smear may not be high on your list of things you want to do, but early detection is the most effective prevention. If you are a due a pap smear, book in today! 

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Read: Home STD Testing: 6 Best At-Home STD Test Kits in 2021


Hannah Kingston

Hannah Kingston

Dec 11, 2022

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