Can You Get a Pap Smear During Your Period?

Menstruation | | Helena Lorimer
4 min read

As if getting a monthly period isn’t bad enough, add one more thing into the mix: women’s reproductive health. You know, things such as getting a Pap smear, a cervical exam, possibly even an ultrasound. All these things are imperative for women.

FYI: if you’ve had or are having sexual skin-to-skin contact, regular Pap smears are recommended every three years from the age of 25.

With that comes the question – can you get a Pap smear while you’re on your period? 

What a Pap Smear Consists Of

A Pap smear, sometimes called a Pap test, is a procedure that tests for cervical cancer in women. 

To get a Pap smear, you need to visit your preferred gynecologist who will ask you to change into a robe. Then, you’ll lay back on a chair, placing your feet into two stirrups. Your gynecologist will use a speculum to open up your vagina so that the cervix can be seen.

A small brush is then inserted into the vagina to gather cells from the cervix. These cells are sent to a laboratory to be tested for any abnormalities. Abnormalities can include signs of cervical cancer and cellular changes (aka pre-cancers) that can be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). 

In fact, some gynecologists will do an HPV test at the same time as your Pap smear by taking samples outside of your cervix. 

Can you get a Pap smear while on your period? 

In an ideal world, you would be able to have a predictable period so that you could organize your life around it, but this isn’t always the case.

Making an appointment with a gynecologist for a Pap smear, especially far in advance, can be difficult because you may not know if you’ll have your period during this time. So, if you do get it, can you still go? 

It’s entirely up to you and your comfort level. You most certainly can get a Pap smear while on your period—your gynecologist has seen it all.

Some patients apologize for coming in on their period. But I’m not bothered by it at all,” says Christine Greves, MD., an OB-GYN.

To add to this. Dr. Rebecca C. Brightman, MD, says: “Pap tests are typically liquid-based cytology evaluations with the cervical cells placed in solution, and cervical cells can then be separated from the blood in the lab to allow for proper analysis.” 

On the other hand, it is easier to get a Pap smear when you aren’t on your period. According to Mary Jane Minkin, MD,:

“A lot of blood might obscure some of the details of the cells, which may make it hard to read.”

If you have a heavy period, a simple call to your doctor’s office could offer you some advice. Some doctors do like to err on the side of caution and ask you to reschedule, and some are happy and willing to do the exam. 

“There’s no way to predict which results will or won’t be affected,” says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, MD. 

Simply put – yes, you can get a Pap smear while on your period, but some doctors may recommend against it if your period is extremely heavy. This is solely based on the fact that it may be difficult to study the cells and provide a confident result.

What’s the best time in your cycle to get a Pap smear? 

Now that we’ve covered the question of if you can get a Pap smear on your period, let’s look at it from a different angle: what is the best time in your cycle to get a Pap smear?

There isn’t a “best time” to get your Pap smear. Technology is so advanced and the test is so sensitive that it doesn’t matter what time of your cycle you choose to have the exam. 

One thing to note, however, is to refrain from sexual intercourse for at least 48 hours before a Pap smear. Even sex using a condom can affect the test results. Condom or no condom, intercourse can cause inflammation or irritation of the vaginal tissue.

It’s also best to avoid oral sex and penetrative masturbation during this same 48-hour window. 

Additionally, one should refrain from douching and using vaginal medicine or spermicidal foams, creams, or jellies for two to three days before having a Pap smear. 

Abnormal Pap Smear Results 

There are a few reasons why you may get an abnormal Pap smear result. 

Sometimes, the test may come back inconclusive. This could mean that there are atypical cells of undetermined significance, but this isn’t necessarily something to worry about. It often means that the cells are neither normal nor abnormal, according to the statistical threshold. 

If your exam results show abnormal results, it doesn’t automatically mean cancer. It could be:

  • Inflammation 
  • Infection 
  • Herpes
  • Trichomoniasis 
  • HPV

Depending on how your cells look under a microscope, your doctor may want to do a cervical biopsy or an additional Pap smear. 

Regardless of your results, however, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your results as they are the professional and can explain them to you. 

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