It has been some time since my first pap smear, but I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was nervous. The exam room was cold, the table hard and the paper gown was barely covering my unmentionables. I remember looking at my phone thinking it must be broken because I had to have been waiting for at least a half an hour.
Just as I had convinced myself that I would get dressed and leave, putting the exam off for another year, the nurse practitioner walks in. After asking a list of questions she asks me to put my feet in the stirrups and lay back. And out of nowhere she pulls out this speculum. OK wait! Let’s talk this through.
Thinking back on that experience, I am glad that I mustered the nerve to complete the exam because little did I know, four years later I would be diagnosed with pre-cancerous cells on my cervix from a regularly scheduled pap. Let’s put it into perspective. There are very few screening tests that can identify cancer in its early stages. Fortunately, pap smears are one of them.
Pap smears, while mildly inconvenient, are extremely necessary and well worth the time if it means preventing an easily detectable and highly curable cancer. Since the introduction of the pap smear in the 1940’s, the incidence and death rate due to cervical cancer in the U.S. has declined by 60%. Real talk, it’s really an exam that separates the women from the girls.
Here is what you need to know about pap smears and what to expect in the exam.