Women’s Care of New Jersey | Urinary Problems, STD Treatment and Endometriosis & Pelvic Pain

What is the difference between a Pap Smear and a Pelvic Exam?

March 29, 2023

It is common for people to confuse Pap Smears and Pelvic Exams. Both are essential procedures for a person’s health, but they are different.

Pap Smear

A Pap smear (or Pap Test) is a procedure that checks for abnormal cells on the cervix, which can be an early sign of cervical cancer. It is important to do regular pap smears so that any problems can be detected early on and treated right away.

When Should You get a Pap Smear?

For women between the ages of 21 and 65, doctors advise starting pap smears at age 21 and repeating the procedure every three years.

It may be advised by a doctor for women who have risk factors to obtain pap tests more frequently. Risk factors according to Mayo Clinic consist of:

  • Diagnosis of cervical cancer or pap smear that indicated precancerous cells
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth
  • HIV infection
  • Weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy, or chronic corticosteroid use
  • History of smoking

Pelvic Exam

A pelvic exam is done to evaluate the reproductive organs and to check for signs of infection or other abnormalities. It can also be used to collect samples for testing, such as Pap tests and STI tests.

When Should You get a Pelvic Exam?

It is recommended to get a pelvic exam at age 21 and the frequency varies based on the individual’s medical history. During pregnancy, pelvic examinations are commonly done. Doctors may also recommend pelvic exams if a person is:

  • Experiencing pelvic pain during sex
  • Has unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding
  • Has a family history of cervical or ovarian cancer
  • At the risk of STI
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Women’s Care of New Jersey | Menopause, STD Treatment and Urinary Problems