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Top 6 Pap Smear Mistakes Women Make

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Updated April 06, 2014

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. (How often should you have a Pap Smear?)

2. Having Sex, 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 Accurate Pap Smear Results)

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.
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