A Pap smear is a simple test used to screen for changes in the cells of the cervix which, if left undetected and untreated, may lead to cervical cancer. Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Having regular Pap smears can help pick up early cell changes which help prevent these changes from developing into cervical cancer. A Pap smear involves a speculum being inserted into the vagina and a sample of cells taken from the cervix.
How often should I have a Pap smear?
It is currently recommended that all women should have regular two-yearly Pap smears. Regular screening is really important as there are often no symptoms in the early stages of cervical cancer. Women who experience unusual vaginal bleeding, discharge or pain should see a health professional as soon as possible.
The Australian Government has accepted a recommendation to replace the current two yearly Pap Smear test with a new five yearly test, which will detect the HPV infection that causes abnormal cell changes. In the meantime, it’s business as usual: the new screening test will be available on the Medicare Benefits Schedule from 1 May 2017, but until then do not delay your two yearly Pap Smear test.
I’ve had the HPV vaccine; do I still need to have regular Pap smears?
The HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer so it is important to continue regular screening.
Preparing for your Pap smear:
- Consider wearing a skirt to your appointment as this may make you feel more comfortable
- Talk through any concerns with your clinician before the test
- Pap smears can be uncomfortable, but shouldn’t feel painful. Remember you can ask your clinician to stop at any time if you are feeling uncomfortable
- A Pap smear only takes a few minutes
- The best time to have a Pap smear is in the middle of your menstrual cycle, a few days after you have finished your period and up to a week or so before your next period is due
Check out this gentle introduction to Pap smears from Family Planning New Zealand.
As well as offering Pap smears at our clinic in Northbridge, SHQ also runs a Well Women’s Pap-smear clinic at Midland Women’s Health Care Place (4 The Avenue Midland) every Tuesday. Please phone 9250 2221 to make an appointment at Midland. For Northbridge clinic appointments please click here.