Can you get a Pap smear while on your period? We’ll cut to the chase with this one. The short answer is: Yes, you can. While it may seem obvious that getting a pap smear while menstruating can make the entire process a little bit messier than it otherwise would be, it's definitely doable. You might just need to jump through a few more hoops first. 

a collection of feminine hygiene products

What is a pap smear?

A Pap smear is a medical procedure used to screen for cervical cancer, and it is an essential part of women's preventative healthcare starting around the age of 21.

During a Pap smear, your OB/GYN or healthcare provider will use a speculum to gently open your vagina and then use a soft brush or swab to collect a sample of cells from the surface of your cervix. 

Those cells are then examined under a microscope to detect early signs of cervical cancer or precancerous changes in the cells of the cervix. These changes can be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical cancer. 

By identifying these changes early, healthcare providers can treat abnormalities before they progress any further. Basically, a pap smear can save your life! 

How often should you get a pap smear?

The frequency of Pap smears can vary depending on age, previous Pap smear results, and the presence of certain risk factors. According to ACOG, for women between the ages of 21 and 29 Pap smears are typically recommended every three years. For those between the ages of 30 and 65, Pap smears are typically performed every three to five years. Women with a history of cervical cancer, precancerous lesions, or a weakened immune system may need more frequent Pap smears, which is why it's important to consult with your doctor, who can assess your specific situation and provide personalized recommendations for Pap smear screening intervals.

Remember: Regular screening is essential for the early detection and treatment of cervical cancer or precancerous changes, so consider this your friendly reminder to schedule a Pap smear today! 

woman and obgyn talking before pelvic exam

Pros and cons of getting a pap smear during your period

While getting a Pap smear during your period is definitely possible, it is generally not recommended. Below are some pros and cons to consider.


Let's start with the Pros: If you have limited availability for appointments and your annual OB/GYN visit coincides with your period, it may be convenient to have the Pap smear during that time. Moreover, if you are long overdue for a Pap smear, it's better to get it done while menstruating rather than rescheduling or canceling. Your health is most important, and it's best not to delay things any further. 


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As for the Cons, getting a Pap smear while on your period may be slightly more uncomfortable due to increased sensitivity 'down there' as well as potential cramping. Period blood can also interfere with the interpretation of the Pap smear results, potentially leading to false results or the need for a repeat test. Lastly, some healthcare providers may even have policies against performing Pap smears during menstruation due to the reasons listed above — not to mention hygiene concerns — so be sure to call prior to attending the appointment. 

woman holding a graphic of the female reproductive system on her lower abdomen

Check with your doctor 

If you do get your period right before you are due for a Pap smear, we advise that you contact your doctor for guidance before skipping out on this important procedure. You never know how long it may be before they're able to fit you back into the schedule!   

If your healthcare provider is okay with it and you do decide to go ahead with a Pap smear while on your period, you may want to stick with menstrual pads over other feminine hygiene products so that you're as comfortable as possible for the exam. And afterward? Well, it will be amazing to know that you've checked a crucial box when it comes to your preventative health. 

Brighid Flynn is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia where she lives with her husband and puppy. She is just beginning her journey toward motherhood.