The question “Can you get a pap smear on your period?” is one singular question many women asked often times but before we answer this question, let us look at what a pap smear is and why women do it. A pap smear is a test that is done to check if you have abnormal cells in your cervix. It is done to detect any chance of developing cervical cancer. It is always done by a gynecologist, a nurse or a doctor.
Some people believe that pap smear is only for those who are sexually active, this is false as the test can be done by any female whether sexually active or not. It is not intended to be used in checking for sexually transmitted diseases, pap smear is for detecting abnormal cell growth in the cervix.
According to an article published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2021, every woman from the age of 21 should a have pap smear test regularly every 3 years till the age of 65 (if your past test results are normal).
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in 2021, through their website, explained how this test is done. A small sample of your cells from your cervix is taken by your doctor and sent to the laboratory for evaluation and examinations. If the result is normal, you will be asked to conduct another test in 3 years time but if there is an abnormal growth, you will be asked to go through a colposcopy (further examination of your cervix, vagina and vulva using a surgical instrument called a colposcope).
The test can also be done to test for human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus may lead to cervical cancer if it does not go away within 1 or 2 years. The importance of the test to to find out about the early growth of cancerous cells and treat them before they grow too deep and spread to other parts of the body.
The guidelines for conducting pap smear were published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in 2016, specifying when to get the test done. For women aged 21 to 29, a pap smear should be done only once every three years. From age 30 to 65, you can use any of the three choices: Getting a Pap smear once every three years, a high-risk HPV test every five years, or a HPV test with a Pap every five years.
CAN YOU GET A PAP SMEAR ON YOUR PERIOD?
Simply yes, you can get a pap smear on your period. There is no reason why you should not have the test done while you are on your period. However, health experts advised that it is better to get it done when you are not seeing your period or when you are not bleeding heavily. Some doctors kick against getting a pap smear when you are on your period.
The reason for rescheduling when you are having a heavy flow is that the results may be slightly changed due to the blood. Remember that during your period, the pH of your vagina may falter a bit, and your gynecologist will not be able to get a clean sample of your cells. Light bleeding may not cause any problems or changes in the outcome but check with your gynecologist agrees first.
CAN YOU HAVE A PAP SMEAR WHEN SPOTTING OR HAVING LIGHT PERIOD
Light period may indicate that your period is ending or you do not have a heavy flow; it may also indicate that you are pregnant. You can get your pap smear test if you are spotting or having light bleeding, the small amount of blood is unlikely to alter the result of the test. A light flow may not cause any issue.
Contrary to people’s belief that getting a pap smear when you are pregnant can lead to miscarriage, this is false. Most doctors will recommend you have a pap smear when you are pregnant so as to ascertain the overall health of the mother. But the pap smear should be done before 24 weeks, or at least in the third month. You can get your pap smear test done while bleeding instead of rescheduling and not doing it again.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR A PAP TEST IF YOU ARE ON YOUR PERIOD
The best time to have your test done is when you are not menstruating, but if the period comes out after you have scheduled with your doctor, you can speak to him or her. If your doctor approves of you going ahead with the test, there are a few things you should do:
- Only wear pads. Do not use menstrual cups or tampons before or after the test. Using these things can make it difficult to carry out the tests
- Stay away from vaginal medications, creams or powders. They may interfere with the cells and mucus.
- Do not douche; doing this may wash off the abnormal cells and affect the results.
HOW CAN YOU DO A PAP SMEAR IF YOU ARE ON YOUR PERIOD
The method of collecting the cells is the same whether when you are on your period or not. You will lie on the examination table and a speculum which is lubricated is inserted into your vagina. Your doctor will quickly swab your cervix and collect the cells and mucus needed. A pelvic exam may be carried out also to check for abnormalities, this process may be a little bit difficult to get done if you are on your period.
After collection of the cells during the pap smear, the sample is kept in a clean, sealed container and sent to the laboratory for further testing and evaluation. You should know that your period may not cause any changes or issues with the way the test is done, but many doctors may not agree to you doing the test while bleeding to avoid false-negative results.
CAN THE RESULTS BE ACCURATE IF YOU ARE ON YOUR PERIOD
Your period, especially light spotting may not affect the results of the test but heavy flow is likely to cause false results. Remember that period brings out blood and the presence of the blood may hide the abnormal cells. Also the pH of the vagina slightly changes when you are ovulating or on your period.
To avoid having inaccurate or false result, you should do the test when you are not bleeding. But if you cannot reschedule for the pap smear, you can do it on your period rather than not doing it at all.
PAP SMEAR ON FIRST DAY OF PERIOD
It is best to reschedule your appointment if your period first day is same with it but if you cannot, no problem. Just know that you may need to repeat the test. When you are on your first day during your period, you bleed heavily. The doctor separates the walls of your vagina with a speculum and a large cotton swab will be used to absorb any blood in the area.
This will help your doctor to check inside for abnormalities and to collect the needed cells. Other exams like pelvic can be done too. In the laboratory, the doctor will make efforts to get the cells, if the blood is too much and the cells cannot be seen for the test, the result will be termed inadequate and the patient will have to come back for another test obviously when their period has finished.
HOW MANY DAYS AFTER YOUR PERIOD CAN I GET A PAP SMEAR
If you do not want your period to alter your result or to avoid inadequate result, you can wait for some days after your period to get the test done. According to health experts, the best time after your period to schedule for your pap smear is at least 5 days after the end of your menstrual period.
Canadian Cancer Society recommends that you can schedule for the test between 10 and 20 days after the first day of your period.
AFTER YOUR PAP SMEAR ON YOUR PERIOD
When your doctor is with the test, you can leave the examination but do not wear the same pad you wore before the test. Change into a clean one, this is why you should pack at least a pad when going to the hospital. You can decide to shower or not, it does not change anything. Some prefer to shower because the external object that entered their vagina may personally irritate them. Note that the speculum and cotton swab does not cause any damages to your body.
You can go back to your normal activities after the test, but you may be asked to come back for another test if the first is termed inadequate. The result can take up to 3 weeks to be out, sometimes it may be less. Your doctor will interpret your result for you when it is out.
It is very important that every female from the age of 21 to 65 gets a pap smear test done once every 3 years in order to detect abnormal cells that may cause cervical cancer. Being on your period should not stop you, instead of rescheduling and skipping the appointment, you can get it done.
Your period may not interfere with the test especially if you are having light bleeding. Make sure you get the test done and cancel the chances of those abnormal cells developing to cancer which may spread to other parts of the body.