There are two things a woman (probably) never looks forward to getting: her period and a pap smear. It isn’t uncommon for women to wake up the same day of their scheduled pap smear to a period that either came early or is lingering longer than normal. So when these two things collide, it may leave you feeling overwhelmed and wondering “can I even get my pap smear today while on my period?”

The answer is not a clear yes or no, so let’s dive in.

What is a pap smear?

Pap smear tests are the recommended screening test for abnormal cells that could potentially turn into cervical precancer or cervical cancer. Not to be dramatic, but getting pap smears at the intervals recommended by your doctor could quite literally save your life.

Even if you’ve had a pap smear before, you might not know what it is that your gynecologist is actually doing! After inserting a speculum and getting you into a position where your cervix is visible, your doctor will take a tiny soft broom, brush, or spatula-like device and brush it against your cervix in order to collect cervical cells to be sent off and get tested. It lasts only a few seconds and should not cause any major discomfort.

It’s important that your doctor is able to collect a sufficient sample because errors and inaccuracies in testing are possible. If a test result were to come back invalid, you would be asked to return to the office for another pap smear… and no one wants that!

So, can you get a pap smear while on your period?

There are three main factors to consider when determining whether or not you need to reschedule your pap smear if you’re on your period.

First is the heaviness of your menstrual flow. If you’re in the middle of a very heavy cycle, it could affect the accuracy of the sample taken when sent in for testing. If you’re experiencing light spotting, testing accuracy should be less of a concern.

Second is your comfort level with being seen while on your period. Your pap smear can always be rescheduled, so there’s no need to put yourself in an uncomfortable position by rushing to get it done while menstruating.

The final thing to consider is your provider’s preference. When in doubt, call your doctor’s office and ask what they recommend you do. They may ask you questions about your flow or symptoms to gauge how necessary it is for you to come in that day. You should be prepared to reschedule if that’s what they recommend. I always tell my patients that the worst that could happen is we get an invalid test result and you need to schedule a repeat pap smear.

Pap smears are life-saving screening tests that should be performed at the frequency recommended by your gynecologist. If you find yourself menstruating on the day of your scheduled pap smear, consider how heavy your menstrual flow is, how comfortable you’ll be with being seen, and what your provider preferences are. While yes, you can get a pap smear while on your period, it may not be the best option for you. When in doubt, give your doctor’s office a call and be prepared to reschedule if needed.