whats a pap smear? and do you have to do it?

A Pap smear, or Pap test, happens during a pelvic exam. It’s used to check for pre-cancerous cells in your cervix. During a Pap test, a health care provider inserts a metal or plastic speculum into your vagina. The speculum allows the health care provider to see your cervix and use a small sampler, like a swab, to gently collect cells from your cervix. The cells are then sent to a laboratory to be tested.

In general, it’s recommended that women start getting routine Pap tests at age 21. This is because abnormal cell growths that the test detects are unlikely in younger women.  Once you turn 21, you should have a Pap test every three years. Some women may need them more frequently  your health care provider can tell you how often you should have them. Learn more about Pap tests.