The Infamous Pap Smear Test: How Important It Is?

I remember my first pap smear test. I was dreading at the taught of it. But I knew that I
couldn’t avoid it, it had to be done. Building up my courage and without thinking twice
about it, I went for the test. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be. Like most
women, I found the test uncomfortable but it was quick. Honestly, the anticipation was
worse than the experience.

I knew this test was necessary, but I didn’t know why physicians emphasize it’s
importance until my doctor explained it to me.

A Pap Smear Test is a ​cervical cancer​ screening test. Tissue samples are taken from
the inside of your cervix to determine if you are at risk of developing cervical cancer.

One of the most common causes of cervical cancer is the Human Papillomavirus
(HPV). ​HPV​ is a sexually transmitted disease and certain strains (HPV 16 and 18) are
known to cause cervical and oropharyngeal cancer. The non-cancerous strains cause
genital warts.

When the cancerous strain infects the cervical tissue, it will change the genetics of the
cervical cells resulting in abnormal growth of the tissue. These changes are detected by
the Pap smear test.

Here is what to expect from your first pap smear test appointment:

1. Tell your doctor that this is your first pap smear test. They will explain the
procedure in detail and go through every step with you.

2. You will have to remove your clothing from the waist done. Don’t worry about not
shaving your vagina, the doctors honestly do not care and will not remember.

3. On the examination table, a sheet will be placed under you, and over your
exposed legs and pelvis.

4. You will be asked to spread your legs, and you may have to place them on the
stirrups. This may feel like a vulnerable position, but it is important to keep your
legs wide open. The position ensures that your vaginal muscles are relaxed so
that no resistance is encountered when the speculum is inserted.

5. The speculum is a duck bill-shaped device that is inserted into your vagina. When
inside it will be opened from the outside end (think of it like the duck is quacking),
which allows the doctor to visualize your cervix.

This step is most commonly found to be the uncomfortable part. Your doctor will
lubricate the speculum to make insertion easier so that it glides in. It is during
this step that you have to keep your lower body muscles relaxed. We
subconsciously contract our muscles which makes the whole experience worse.

Try to think of something that relaxes you, maybe a treat (a brownie perhaps?)
after this appointment because you deserve it! So keep your legs wide open,
unclench whatever muscle feels tight, and think about something that makes you

Other than the pressure of the insertion and opening, the speculum may also feel
cool. Speculum insertion is not supposed to feel painful, therefore tell your doctor
when it is.

6. Next comes the swab. Your doctor will insert a long thin swab into your vagina,
go up to your cervix, and with a circular motion, take cells from the walls of your
cervix. Usually, two swab samples are obtained. This may feel like a strange
tickling sensation on the inside. But it isn’t as unpleasant as the speculum (for
some women).

And that’s it! You are done! Now pat yourself on the back, because you just did
something that most of us women are afraid to do.

Important tips to remember:

- Pap smear test should not be done during your periods

- Do not use a tampon, local contraception, or other vaginal products 48 hours
before the test
A woman must undergo a pap smear test. Not only does it catch cervical cancer in its
early stages, but early detection is known to ​reduce​ the mortality rate in women.
Another element involved in cervical cancer prevention is the HPV ​vaccination​ which
prevents infection with the virus.

There are 3 types of vaccine available:

1. Gardasil: prevents infection with 4 HPV types
2. Gardasil 9: prevents infection with 9 HPV types
3. Cervarix: prevents infection with cancer-causing HPV strain only (that is 16 and 18)

One of the most important barriers to this screening test is inadequate ​knowledge​.
Share your experience with those women who have yet to undergo this test, your
younger sisters, daughters, cousins, friends, and even co-workers.

Tell them about what you learned at the doctor’s appointment, what to anticipate, and
why undergoing a pap smear test is crucial for a woman.