Can You Get a Pap Smear on Your Period?

Ob-gyns weigh in on whether you can (or should) get a Pap test on your period, and when it's a good idea to reschedule.

If you have a regular-as-clockwork menstrual cycle (and you're super organized), it's easy enough to schedule a Pap test (aka Pap smear) for when you don't have your period. But for many people, periods don't always come on schedule— or they don't plan so far in advance when booking a Pap test appointment. When that happens, is it OK to get a Pap test while you're on your period, or should you wait and reschedule?

Pap Test Basics

First things first: It helps to know exactly what happens during a Pap test. It involves taking cell samples from your cervix to look for signs of cervical cancer, as well as cellular changes (aka, precancers, caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV) that indicate cancer might develop in the future, per the Office on Women's Health.

During the Pap, a healthcare professional inserts a speculum into your vagina to open it up and make it easier to take samples. This is done using a soft brush and a small stick (sometimes called a spatula), according to the Office on Women's Health. Sometimes, the healthcare professional will do an HPV test at the same time as the Pap test (this is called co-testing), also by taking samples from outside the cervix. The samples are then sent to a lab for testing.

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How Often Should You Get a Pap Test?

A Pap and/or HPV test is sometimes done during a pelvic exam, which is typically carried out as part of your annual ob-gyn visit, describes the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Of course, if you're experiencing unusual vaginal discharge or pelvic pain, you can make an appointment for a pelvic exam at any time.

Individuals with a cervix are recommended to start cervical cancer screening at 25 and continue through age 65, with HPV testing every five years as the preferred method of testing, according to 2020 guidelines released by the American Cancer Society.

If you get an abnormal Pap result or have risk factors like a history of cervical cancer, you might need to get a Pap more often. The frequency of Pap tests also performed depends on a person's prior pap results, age, and personal preference, Rebecca C. Brightman, MD, a gynecologist in private practice in NYC and an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told Health.

Pap Test With Your Period? It Depends

As for getting a Pap test on your period, there's no reason you can't have one, though it may not be ideal if you're experiencing a particularly heavy flow. "A lot of blood might obscure some of the details of the cells, which may make it hard to read," Mary Jane Minkin, MD, FACOG, Clinical Professor of Obstetrics at the Yale University School of Medicine, told Health.

According to Dr. Brightman, "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." But, again, if there's too much blood in that sample, it may obscure results. Board-certified ob-gyn Dr. Angela Jones, formerly Astroglide's resident sexual health advisor, agrees that a Pap test on your period is totally fine—"as long as your period isn't too heavy," Dr. Jones told Health.

How Heavy Is Too Heavy?

Unfortunately, there's no right answer to the question of "how heavy is too heavy?" But if you have a Pap test scheduled and you're bleeding heavily—like soaking through an entire pad or tampon—Dr. Brightman recommended calling your practitioner before your appointment. Some healthcare providers might err on the side of caution and recommend getting your Pap done when you're not on your period. "There's no way to predict which results will or won't be affected," said Dr. Minkin. The same goes for an HPV test—while Dr. Minkin said a heavy flow shouldn't affect the results of that test, your provider may still suggest you reschedule.

There's also the issue of your own comfort to take into account. If you're not comfortable getting a Pap test, HPV test, or even your annual exam while you have your period, it's best to reschedule and go back on a period-free day (just don't forget!).

Check-in With a Healthcare Professional

The bottom line: If you have your period and an ob-gyn appointment coming up, give your provider's office a call to see what they'd prefer you to do, and then go from there. Depending on the timing of your period, your own comfort level, and a healthcare professional's opinion, some may suggest you still come in for your appointment, and others may suggest you try another day.

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  1. Office on Women's Health. Pap and HPV tests.

  2. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Get your well-woman visit every year.

  3. Fontham ETH, Wolf AMD, Church TR, et al. Cervical cancer screening for individuals at average risk: 2020 guideline update from the American Cancer SocietyCA A Cancer J Clin. 2020;70(5):321-346. doi:10.3322/caac.21628

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