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The Essential Pap Smear

When and Where to Get a Pap Smear

You should have your first Pap smear by age 18 or as soon as you become sexually active-whichever comes first. Even women who no longer have their periods or have had a hysterectomy should have a Pap smear. Some women may require Pap smears more frequently than once per year. In addition, Pap smears are usually done at the first prenatal visit of pregnancy and at the 6-week follow-up visit after having a baby or a miscarriage.

Your gynecologist, other primary care physician (internist or family doctor), nurse practitioner or physician assistant can perform your Pap smear. If you do not have access to a regular physician or need financial assistance, you can also obtain a Pap smear at most student health clinics or Planned Parenthood offices. The YWCA is also running an excellent program called "Encore Plus" to help women obtain free or low cost breast and cervical cancer screening. Go to ( for more information.

Be Sure to Follow These 5 Rules for Reliable Results:

  • Schedule your Pap test at least 5 days after the last day of your period. The ideal time is in the second half of your cycle.
  • Don't have sex or use tampons, vaginal creams or foams 48 hrs before your test. If you do have intercourse, use a condom.
  • Don't douche! Not only is there probably no need to, douching can wash away some evidence of abnormalities.
  • Ask your doctor (or office staff) if the lab your Pap smear is going to is fully accredited and meets recent new standards.
  • After having your Pap smear, always follow up with your health care provider and ASK for your results. Don't assume you will be contacted if the test is abnormal or inconclusive.
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     The Pap smear is the most important screening test to detect early evidence of cervical cancer. It can also detect many other infections and cervical abnormalities. Have you had yours in the last year? Now is the time! 

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