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What Happens During an Annual Pap Test and Pelvic Exam?

What to Know Before Your Next Visit to the Gynecologist

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Updated June 19, 2014

The first thing that usually happens during your annual exam is getting checks of your blood pressure, weight, pulse, and often urine. Be prepared to give the nurse the date of your last period -- this is the date of the first day of your last period. Also go over any concerns that you want to discuss with the doctor.

After your initial discussion with the nurse, you'll be directed to take all of your clothes off (you may leave your socks on.) Most gynecologists provide a short examination gown and a paper sheet to cover yourself until your examination begins. When you're finished, and sitting on the exam table, your gynecologist comes in, accompanied by the nurse. A female nurse should always be present during your annual exam, particularly if your gynecologist is male. The presence of the nurse provides protection for both you and your gynecologist. Your physician will listen to your heart and lungs, check your breasts for any changes or lumps, and palpitate your abdominal area for any irregularities. A reliable examination of your breasts takes approximately 30 seconds per breast.

During your breast examination your physician should discuss monthly breast self- exam with you and also provide instructions if you are unfamiliar with how to perform BSE. If you are 35 or older, your physician should also discuss mammogram screening for breast cancer.

During the pelvic exam/ Pap smear portion of your visit, you'll need to lay down on the table and put your feet in the stirrups. You may need to scoot down to the end of the table and spread your knees apart. Next a speculum is inserted into your vagina to hold your vaginal walls open so your physician can view the inside of the vaginal walls and the cervix, and collect a sample of cervical tissue for your Pap test.

What is the Procedure for Collecting a Pap Smear Sample?

Obtaining the Pap smear requires that your gynecologist insert a long cotton swab into your vagina. The cotton swab gently swabs against your cervix so that a sample of cervical cells is retrieved for evaluation by a pathologist. Labs generally require about five days for your test results to return to your gynecologist.

What if My Pap Smear Is Abnormal?

In the unlikely event that your Pap results are abnormal, the first thing you should not do is jump to the conclusion that you have cancer. In the majority of abnormal Pap smears, the cause is not cervical cancer, but one of a variety of other causes that include inflammation, the presence of blood or sperm, or an infection such as a vaginal yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis, and sometimes the presence of an undiagnosed sexually transmitted diseases.

Try to remember that the Pap smear is not a diagnostic tool -- it does not diagnose cancer or any other disease. The Pap test is a screening tool that indicates whether further evaluation is necessary. If you receive abnormal Pap results your gynecologist may recommend a follow-up Pap test in three to six months. Or other options for further testing such as colposcopy or theLEEP may also be recommended.

See: Understanding Your Pap Smear Results

Next: What is the Procedure for the Bimanual Exam?

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