If you are a proud owner of ovaries, then you’re most certainly aware of how many revolving components are involved in your hygienic upkeep. From STD checks to birth control methods, caring for your reproductive health is not for the lazy. One of the most daunting tasks happens to be Pap smears, but while they can be daunting, they’re unavoidable.

Though quick, simple and relatively painless, Pap smears are still a bit invasive. So what happens when it’s your time of the month and your scheduled Pap smear is on the horizon? Is it imperative that you reschedule or can you get a Pap smear on your period? 

What Are Pap Smears?

We’ve heard our moms and aunts whisper about them in the corridors, well aware of the elusive and impending doom that awaited us when we were old enough to need our own. Recommended to get your first at age 21 or whenever you become active, a Pap smear is a minimally invasive medical procedure that helps detect cervical cancer.

During a Pap smear, you lie back on the examination table as a speculum is inserted into your vagina. Then, alongside a pelvic exam, your cervix is swabbed for cells and mucus. The collection is placed in a sealed container to be sent off to a lab for testing for any abnormalities. As far as upkeep goes, those under the age of 65 are encouraged to repeat Pap testing every three years.

Can You Get a Pap Smear on Your Period?

Truthfully, the answer is a bit nuanced. While it’s totally up to you whether or not you get a Pap smear on your period, it would probably be best to wait until you’re off your cycle for a number of reasons.

While spotting may not have as much of a significant effect, the blood from a heavy flow may alter the accuracy of your results. Your doctor will use a large cotton swab to absorb any blood in the area, but there’s risk of a false negative, since the presence of any leftover blood in the sample may conceal abnormal cervical cells. Similarly, if too much is cleared up and there aren’t enough cervical cells present for a proper result, the test will come back flagged inadequate and you’ll need to retest.

While it varies from doctor to doctor and their particular preference, some may actually refuse to conduct your Pap smear while you’re on your cycle. Aside from menstruating, having intercourse, douching or using vaginal hygiene products up to two days beforehand can alter the accuracy of your results as well. 

When Should I Get a Pap Smear?

Because of the significance of this procedure, it’s better to get a Pap smear at any time than never at all, even if that means getting one on your period. The process of cancer development can take three to seven years, so sticking to the recommended screening schedule is crucial.

However, if you have an open schedule and regulated cycle that you’re able to track, it is recommended to get your Pap smear done during the middle of your cycle or about nine to 20 days after the first day of your period. 

Take Care of Your Body

Ultimately, getting a pap smear during your period is up to you and your comfort level, accounting for the risk of potentially needing to retest. With more and more black women at risk for cervical cancer, protecting yourself with awareness and getting ahead of the game can be life saving. If caught early enough, cervical cancer is highly treatable, so no matter where you are in your cycle, it’s always better to get tested than to not.