There are many components to the recommended annual well-woman exam, including a pap smear, but can a pap smear detect STDs? Pap smears are essential in the early detection of cervical cancer, and while that often involves the detection of HPV, it’s unlikely that your pap smear or routine gynecological exam will be able to detect any other STDs, save for in a few special circumstances.
What is a pap smear?
Pap smears test for precancerous cells on the cervix, commonly caused by some strains of HPV, by taking a tissue sample from the cervix during a gynecological exam. Pap smears can detect certain strains of HPV that might cause abnormal cell growth that can lead to cervical cancer, but other than that, it does not test or screen for any other kind of sexually transmitted disease or infection. A pap smear can not detect herpes, syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea or other common STDs and STIs. Additionally, it cannot detect cancers other than cervical, such as ovarian cancers or uterine cancers. Ovarian or uterine cancers can only be detected with an ultrasound, pelvic exam or biopsy test, and these tests are typically only administered after patients begin to experience symptoms.
It’s also important to remember that pap smears are not always a part of a well-woman exam. If the results from previous pap smears have been normal, a pap smear is done typically every three years. A pap smear may be performed more frequently than every three years if abnormal results have been returned in the past or other concerns warrant it.
Is STD testing part of a well-woman exam?
While tests for STDs can be performed as part of a well-woman visit, they are not typically included unless specifically requested by the patient. In order to be tested for STDs, the patient will need to provide a blood or urine sample (or both), which is not usually a part of a well-woman visit.
However, if you are STD positive and are exhibiting symptoms that your doctor is able to identify, it’s likely that your doctor will recommend testing. However, it’s important to note that most STDs are asymptomatic, and even when symptoms are present, they might not be discernible to you or your doctor.
If you’ve been experiencing any symptoms that could be related to an STD, it’s important to share that information with your doctor. Whether the symptoms are caused by an STD or not, it’s important to discuss them with your physician so that they might help you identify other possible causes for the symptoms. Common symptoms associated with STDs include unusual vaginal discharge, painful urination, fever, abdominal pain, itching, spotting between periods or painful intercourse.
The most important thing to remember about your well-woman exam, or any doctor’s visit, is that it’s your time to be open and honest with your doctor about your sex life and any questions or concerns you might have. Be honest with your doctor about your sexual activity, including any new partners, their status or the status of their partners, safer sex practices and, of course, whether you suspect you or a partner may have contracted an STD. Your doctor can’t advise you on what tests or practices are best if they don’t have relevant information about your sexual experience.