April 22, 2020 4 min read

At MSH we understand the importance of a pap smear. But we also know what it feels like to walk out of a consultation, get charged an arm and a leg, and feel that the doctor did not really hear you.  You are not only your cervix! You want to chat about your hormones, whether your contraception is really safe and appropriate, whether your body is normal, and whether your sex life is normal. 

That is what we do at MSH. We listen. We answer. We know you need more than just a pap smear.

Here are a few frequently asked questions about a pap smear:

What is a pap smear test and how is it done?

A pap smear test is a screening test for cervical cancer. It is short for “Papanicolaou” test which is the surname of one of the doctors who invented the pap smear test in the 1920’s. A pap smear is done by a medical professional who opens the vaginal canal with a speculum and brushes the cells of the mouth of your womb, the cervix. We send the sample for liquid cytology these days and no longer for the traditional pap smear test that was done on a slide.

You have to talk to your doctor about including an HPV test when your pap smear is done. HPV is the virus that causes cervical cancer. It is suggested that we test for both if you are over the age of thirty.

It is not a painful procedure and although a lot of females dread their check-up, it is not something to be afraid of. A pap smear should always be accompanied by a general check-up and breast examination - ask your doctor for this if it is not offered.

At what age should I have a pap smear test and how often must it be done?

The suggested age for a pap smear is 25 or when you have your sexual debut (first sexual encounter), whichever comes first. Thereafter you will need to go back for another check-up and pap smear test every second year in your 20’s and every third year from your 30’s onwards. There are three exceptions to this rule which means you will have to get it done at shorter intervals than mentioned above: 

  • If you ever have an abnormality on your pap smear, you should go annually thereafter.
  • If you get involved with a new sexual partner, you should have a pap smear test soon after your first sexual encounter with your new partner.
  • If you are HIV positive, you need to go every year.
What does a pap smear cost in South Africa?

At MSH, the cost of your pap smear procedure is included in all consultation fees, so you will not pay anything extra for this. The lab however charges their own rate to examine the test under a microscope and report on your results - this costs between R150 and R250, depending on the lab.  If an HPV test is added, it is an additional R550. (***This is an approximate for April 2020)

 What do I need to do to prepare for a pap smear appointment?

You do not need to do anything to prepare for your pap smear. A lot of females feel like they have to wax or shave before an appointment and shower right before their examination, but this is not necessary at all. At MSH we have wipes available for your personal use before the examination - but this is just for your own comfort. Remember, we are doing a medical examination and not “judging” you on the appearance of your vulva - a lot of females are very anxious about this.

For more detail about what to expect, watch this video. It is best to come at a time of the month when you are not having your period and it is best to empty your bladder before the appointment so that the examination is more comfortable, but only empty your bladder at the practice in case the doctor wants to test your urine. 

What happens to my pap smear result?

The lab will report on your pap smear result, which usually takes about a week, and send the result to the doctor who performed your pap smear. The doctor will then inform you of your result - at MSH we do not follow the “No news is good news”-policy! We will always let you know what your result is, even if it is completely normal. If there is an abnormality, this will be discussed with you and you will also be told what action needs to be taken due to the result.

Please note: A pap smear only checks for cells that are starting to change and might become cancerous. It does not check for other sexually transmitted infections (STI).  You can have a perfectly normal pap smear and still have any other STI.  Ask your doctor to test you for this if you are concerned about an STI!

The My Sexual Health Doctors are all available for appointments if you want to book your pap smear test now - find the details of all our practices here. If you rather want to come for your appointment after the Covid-19 lockdown, you are welcome to have an online consultation with our doctors so you can discuss you sexual health in the meantime and then you come in for the physical appointment later.

Dr. Jeanne Aspeling
Written by Dr Jeanne Aspeling – General Practitioner with a special interest in Sexual Health
083 472 9025

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.