Top 6 Pap Smear Mistakes Women Make
Courtesy of Lisa Fayed


The Pap smear is the most effective means of cervical cancer screening today, but its success heavily relies on its accuracy.

While the use of new, liquid-based Pap smears yield more precise results, there are things women can do to help make results more accurate.

Here are some common Pap smear mistakes that women make that could affect the effectiveness of the test:

1. Not Getting a Regular Pap Smear
A regular Pap smear is a highly effective way to prevent cervical cancer. A Pap smear can detect abnormal changes to the cervix long before they become cancerous. The key to its effectiveness, however, is to have one done regularly.

Question: Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines

How often should I get a Pap smear?

Answer: Current general cervical cancer screening guidelines set forth by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommend:

First Screening: Women should have a Pap test at least once every 3 years, beginning about 3 years after they begin to have sexual intercourse, but no later than age 21. Experts recommend waiting about 3 years after the start of sexual activity to avoid overtreatment for common, temporary abnormal changes. It is safe to wait 3 years, because cervical cancer usually develops slowly. Cervical cancer is extremely rare in women under age 25.

Ages 19-29: Pap smear every three years unless ordered more freequently by your physician.

Age 30: Women 30 and over should continue to be tested every 2-3 years unless ordered more frequently by a phsician. At 30, women have the option to be tested for HPV, a common virus that causes cervical cancer, to be done with a routine Pap smear.

Ages 65 to 70: Women who have had at least three normal Pap tests and no abnormal Pap tests in the last 10 years may decide, after talking with their clinician, to stop having Pap smears performed. If a woman has not had a Pap in several years, a screening must be done. If she is at high risk for cervical cancer, frequent screenings may be necessary.

2. Intercourse, Douching or Using Vaginal Inserts 24-48 Hours Before a Pap Smear
General rule of thumb is not to have anything in the vagina for 24 to 48 hours before having a Pap smear. It can mask abnormal cells, possibly causing an inaccurate Pap smear result.

If you have intercourse, douche, or use anything in the vagina before a Pap smear, try to reschedule your appointment. If you are unable to reschedule, inform your doctor before the Pap is done.

3. Scheduling a Pap Smear at the Wrong Time in Your Cycle
The ideal time to have a Pap smear is 10 to 20 days after the start of your last period. Ideally, you should never schedule a Pap during your period. Menstrual blood and fluid can make abnormal cells difficult to detect, possibly causing an inaccurate result. You may be able to get a Pap test if the flow is light. Consult your doctor if your appointment coincides with a period. He or she may want to reschedule.

Tips for a More Accurate Pap Smear
Tell your doctor about any discharge, itching, or symptoms you may be experiencing before the Pap smear. Your doctor may want to prescribe medication to clear any infection you may have. Infections can sometimes cause the Pap smear results to come back as abnormal.
Do not have a Pap smear during your period. It is suggested to have a Pap smear between 10 and 20 days after your period.
Avoid intercourse 24-48 hours prior to to the Pap smear.
No douching, tampons, deodorant sprays, feminine washes 48 hours prior to the pap smear. Good rule of thumb is nothing in the vagina. This means vaginal creams, as well.
Know the procedures of your doctor's office in reporting the results to you. It usually takes a week or two to get results back. Sometimes it is the policy to call with all results, normal and abnormal. However, many offices do not call if everything was normal. Be sure you know what their policy is.

4. Not Knowing How You Will Receive Pap Results
Ask your doctor how he or she will notify you of the results before the Pap smear. You can ask the doctor right before he or she begins the Pap smear or one of the medical assistants before you leave.

Many doctor's offices relay normal results by mail, or by phone if the results were abnormal. Some doctors do not contact the patient if results were normal. Every office is different, so be sure to ask.

5. Neglecting to Tell the Doctor of Previous Abnormal Pap Smears
Your doctor needs to know if you have had previous abnormal Pap Smears. Also let your doctor know when the abnormal Pap smear occurred, the exact results of the Pap smear, and the results of any subsequent Pap smears. Be sure to also tell your doctor if you had a colposcopy, biopsy or any treatment related to an abnormal Pap smear.

If you have copies of previous Pap smear, colposcopy, biopsy, or treatment records, bring them with you to the appointment.

6. Not Following Up on Abnormal Pap Smear Results
If you have had an abnormal Pap smear, it is essential to follow up with your doctor's recommendations. Recommendations following an abnormal Pap usually mean repeating the Pap smear or having a colposcopy. Follow-up procedures vary, depending on the results of the Pap smear.

Your doctor's office will schedule an appointment for you to have a repeat pap smear or colposcopy (if your doctor performs colposcopies), or refer you to a gynecologist that performs colposcopies.

Fayed, Lisa; (2007); Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines; Retrieved August 25, 2008, from

Fayed, Lisa; (2007); Pap Smear Tips; Retrieved August 25, 2007, from

Fayed, Lisa; (2007); Top 6 Pap Smear Mistakes Women Make; Retrieved August 25, 2008, from