Part of looking after your vagina is having regular checks by a heath care professional. Pap smears are one way to ensure you maintain a healthy vagina – it only takes a few minutes and it could save your life!
What it is
It's an internal examination where the doctor takes some cervical wall cells to test that everything's a-ok. Unhealthy cells can turn into cervical cancer.
What it does
A Pap smear checks for the early warning signs of cervical cancer. The doctor is on the look out for abnormal cells so they can be dealt with as quickly as possible. But remember, a Pap smear will only check for problems with your cervix, not for STIs or other problems with your reproductive system. You will need to ask your doctor to test for these separately.
A Pap smear may be a tad uncomfortable, but it doesn't hurt (so no excuses!). Most girls can hardly feel it. You lie on your back and the doctor will gently insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina to gain access to the cervix.
A small brush collects a few cells from the surface of the cervix. The cells are placed on a glass slide and sent away for testing. You won't have to wait around for the results – it takes one to two weeks so your doctor will be in touch.
It is also common and recommended to have other examinations when you are at the doctor for a pap smear – such as STI testing, blood tests, swabs, and breast examinations.
Should you have one?
You should have your first Pap smear within two years of the first time you've had sex. To make sure things stay nice and healthy, it's recommended you have them every two years after that, even if you no longer have sex. You can register for reminders to have a pap smear within your state and territory – see http://www.health.gov.au/internet/screening/publishing.nsf/Content/register
Why they're important
Cervical cancer is one of the top ten most common cancers amongst Australian women. But the good news is that it's also one of the most preventable and curable. Early detection is important – so make sure you keep your body at its best by getting down to the doctors every two years for a cervical check-up and STI check.
Who can do it
All GPs do Pap smears, but you may feel more comfortable with a female GP. Just find a doctor that you trust – it's just another day at the office for them. There's absolutely nothing to feel embarrassed about!