Going For Your First Mammogram or Pap Smear Test? Here’s What To Expect

Taking the step to go for the first health screening as a woman is a significant milestone, whether it's a mammogram, Pap Smear, or routine blood test. Let's learn what to expect on the first health screening to prepare you for a smooth experience.

By URLife Team
24 May 2024

A 2022 report issued in the Indian Journal of Medical Research shows that in India, one in nine people is likely to develop cancer in his/her lifetime. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in India, accounting for over one-quarter of all female cancers.  

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We spoke to Dr. Anuradha Panda, Obstetrics & Gynaecology specialist Apollo Cradle Hospital, Hyderabad-Jubilee Hills about getting health screenings for women. She explains that health screenings are crucial for detecting potential health issues at an early stage, which plays a significant role in maintaining optimal health. By identifying problems before symptoms arise, these screenings allow for more effective treatment and management, often preventing the progression of diseases.

  • Early detection: Regular screenings like mammograms and Pap smears can catch conditions such as breast and cervical cancer in their initial stages. Early detection means treatment can begin sooner, which often leads to better outcomes and less invasive treatment options.
  • Valuable insights: Routine blood tests and other health screenings provide essential information about various aspects of your health, such as cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, and organ function. This data helps your healthcare provider assess your overall health and identify any areas that may require attention.
  • Timely interventions: When potential health issues are detected early through screenings, timely interventions can be made. This might involve starting a treatment plan, making lifestyle changes, or taking preventive measures to avoid complications.


Related story: What You Should Know About Cervical Cancer Screening---Pap Smear And HPV Test


Understanding The Procedures

These procedures are essential tools in the early detection and prevention of cervical and breast cancer, and understanding how they work can help alleviate any concerns or apprehensions about undergoing screening. 
Receiving your first mammogram can induce stress. Whether it's your initial screening or not, uncertainties may persist. Yet, understanding how to prepare yourself and what awaits you during this pivotal cancer screening can alleviate apprehensions. This knowledge can mitigate uncertainties, making the experience less daunting for you.


1. Mammogram

A mammogram is a specialised X-ray of the breast tissue. Its purpose is to detect early signs of breast cancer, such as lumps or abnormal changes in breast tissue density.

How Does a Mammogram Work?

  • During a mammogram, the breast is compressed between two plates to spread out the breast tissue evenly.
  • X-ray images are then taken from multiple angles to provide detailed images of the breast tissue.
  • Radiologists examine these images for any abnormalities that may indicate the presence of breast cancer.

Who Should Get a Mammogram and When

  • Women aged 40 and older are generally recommended to have annual mammograms.
  • Women with a higher risk of breast cancer, such as those with a family history or genetic predisposition, may need to start screening earlier and have screenings more frequently.
  • The mammogram procedure takes about 30 minutes. Each of your breasts will be compressed for only 20 to 30 seconds.

Schedule your mammogram today


Related story: How To Do Self-Breast Exam


2. Smear Test (Pap Smear)

A smear test, also known as a Pap smear or Pap test, is a procedure to collect cells from the cervix for examination. Its purpose is to detect early signs of cervical cancer, as well as precancerous changes in cervical cells. 
You may be asked to schedule the test when you're not menstruating, as menstrual blood can interfere with the results. It's also advisable to avoid intercourse, douching, or using vaginal medications for at least 48 hours before the test.
Upon arrival at the clinic or imaging centre, you'll check in and complete any necessary paperwork. You'll be provided with a gown to change into and a private area to undress from the waist up. It is better to wear a two-piece dress so that you don't have to remove your full clothes. 

How Does a Smear Test Work?

  • You'll lie down on an examination table with your feet placed in stirrups to keep your legs apart. This position allows the healthcare provider to access your cervix comfortably.
  • The healthcare provider will use a speculum to gently hold open the walls of your vagina, allowing them to see your cervix. They'll then use a small brush or spatula to collect cells from the cervix's surface. While the procedure may cause slight discomfort or pressure, it should not be painful.
  • These cells are then placed on a slide or in a liquid solution and sent to a laboratory for examination under a microscope.
  • The presence of abnormal cells may indicate the presence of cervical cancer or precancerous changes.

Who Should Get a Smear Test and When

  • Women aged 21 to 65 are generally recommended to have regular Pap smears.
  • The frequency of Pap smears may vary depending on individual risk factors and previous screening results.
  • Women over 30 may opt for a combined Pap smear and HPV test every five years if both tests are negative.

Schedule a pap smear test today


Related story: How To Prepare For A Pap Smear


Health screenings can detect cancers at an early stage, often before symptoms appear. Early-stage cancers are generally more treatable and less likely to have spread, increasing the chances of successful treatment. Women who undergo regular screenings for breast and cervical cancer have higher survival rates because early detection allows for prompt and effective treatment.

Take care of your body and mind to feel your best. Sign up here to unlock holistic health. 



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