First, understand what a Pap test is
A Pap test (or Pap smear) is a routine screening that looks for abnormal cells on the cervix that could lead to cervical cancer. During the test a health care provider uses an instrument called a speculum to widen the vagina so the cervix is visible. The provider then uses another instrument to brush or scrape a small sample of cervical cells that are sent away for laboratory analysis. This Pap smear myth drives ob-gyns crazy.
Don’t panic: an abnormal Pap is not uncommon
If your Pap test comes back with an abnormal result, there’s no need to flip out or feel alone—you have plenty of company. “An abnormal Pap smear result can be a scary experience, but it’s very important not to panic,” says Abigail Cutler, MD, Gellhaus Fellow at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and third-year resident in ob-gyn at the Yale School of Medicine. More than 3 million women in the U.S. get abnormal or unclear Pap test results each year—and only 10,000 actually have cervical cancer, estimates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An abnormal result does not mean you have cancer; it only means there are cell changes on your cervix that may progress to cancer over time if left untreated. “The reason you’re getting a Pap smear is exactly so we have an opportunity to detect any suspicious changes on your cervix before they become a problem,” says Dr. Cutler. Here are 13 health secrets your vagina wishes it could tell you.