What is a Pap smear?
For more than 75 years, a Pap test or a Pap smear has been used as a screening test to detect cervical cancer. It checks the cells in the area to determine if they can turn cancerous. Depending on your age, it is recommended that you get tested every 3-5 years, especially if you’re over 30.
Sexually active women are more at risk of getting cervical cancer since the human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection which can lead to cervical cancer, and is actually the most common cause of this cancer.
How is it done?
During a Pap smear, the doctor collects cells from your cervix and passes them on to a lab for further evaluation. If any of the results come back as abnormal or if the cells are deemed pre-cancerous, your doctor will discuss the next steps with you.
It is important that you avoid having sex, douching (which should be avoided at all times really) or using any vaginal medicines or spermicides for at least two days before going for the test. Doing any of these may wash away abnormal cells or make it harder for them to get detected.
When should you get one?
Normally, doctors recommend getting a Pap smear done every few years unless you experience abnormal symptoms or have had an earlier test result that your doctor deems problematic.
Sometimes, your doctor may also recommend that your Pap smear be also tested for HPV, which usually resolves on its own. But, it can sometimes become cervical cancer in a year or two, which makes it essential for it to get detected.
So, is it possible to get a pap smear on your period?
Technically, it is possible to get a Pap smear when you’re on your period. But, the blood can interfere with the accuracy of the results, especially if your flow is on the heavier side. For this reason, your gynaecologist may ask you to reschedule your appointment.
As per guidelines, it is usually recommended to get Pap smears done mid-cycle or about 9 to 20 days after your first day of bleeding. But, since this is an important exam, it is recommended that you get it done whenever you can fit it into your schedule.
Will it affect the test results?
The pH of your vagina changes slightly when you’re on your period, plus the fact that you’re bleeding can make it difficult for your doctor to collect your cervical cell samples. Because a proper sample is required to detect cervical cancer, you may need to reschedule your appointment.
In case you can’t reschedule, ask your doctor for advice as sometimes, depending on your situation, it may be better to get the test done instead of skipping it. In case you have it during your period, your doctor may recommend getting tested again in 3 years.
What about light flow or spotting?
It’s usually okay to get tested when your flow is light or you’re experiencing spotting, as the chances of a small amount of blood affecting your test results are low. But, your doctor may also recommend rescheduling the test to about a fortnight after the first day of your last period.
But, on an unrelated note, if your flow is too light or you’re spotting between periods, it could be indicative of an underlying condition. Speak to your doctor and get treated accordingly for any problems with your period.
To conclude, yes, it’s still possible to get a Pap smear done when you’re on your period, but the test results may not come back as accurate. If you have a Pap test scheduled and suddenly get your period, speak to your doctor for advice regarding what your next step should be.