Pap smears. Ughh!!! Everybody hates it, right? It’s weird and uncomfortable, and it may tell me something that I don’t want to know. I wish I could make the idea fun, but I can’t. I hate them myself, but I recognize that it could save my life.

When was your last Pap? Are you sure? Just because the speculum (clamp) was used doesn’t mean you had an actual Pap smear. What were you tested for? What were the results?

Did you know that Pap smears actually check for cervical cancer? Did you know that cervical cancer is sexually transmitted 97% of the time? Did you know that this is the single most preventable cancer?

Although Pap smears are not the most fun thing to do, they are necessary. Cervical cancer is caused by a virus called HPV. HPV is acquired by having unprotected sex. It only takes one unprotected sexual encounter to acquire HPV. Having yearly checks can closely monitor your cervical health as well as your HPV status. Even in women who are not sexually active currently, Pap smears are still necessary, as you were active previously and there is still a 3% chance of developing cervical cancer outside of HPV.

Use your gynecology visit as a time to discuss all of these topics. Open up. Discuss what’s on your mind—it could save your life. Just because you think something is “normal” doesn’t mean that it is. Mentioning a concern could be life-changing.

January is Cervical Health Awareness month. Challenge yourself to conquer your fears. Call your gynecologist. Schedule an appointment to have a conversation and examination.