Don't Let Pelvic Pain Stop You From Getting a Pap Smear
Hi friends! January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. The CDC reports that cervical cancer is diagnosed in 13,000 women each year. When found early, cervical cancer is highly treatable and there is a good prognosis of survival.
The main cause of cervical cancer is an infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV). During a regular checkup, your provider can perform a test called a pap smear to check for any cancerous or precancerous cells and test for HPV. Talk with your provider about how often you should have a pelvic exam and pap smear test done. Their recommendations will depend on your age and the result of your previous pap smear tests.
To perform a pap smear, your provider will most likely insert a speculum to allow them to see the cervix and collect a sample. If you have pelvic pain, the thought of a speculum can be scary! If you are dealing with pelvic floor dysfunction, this routine examination can become painful and difficult to tolerate. In some cases, like with vaginismus, it may even make the examination impossible. When this happens, the pelvic floor muscles are involved.
The pelvic floor muscles sit at the bottom of the pelvis and span from the pubic bone in the front and the tailbone in the back. The pelvic floor is made up of several different muscles, some of which wrap around each opening: the urethra (where pee exits the body), the anus (where poop and gas exit the body), and the vagina (in females).
In conditions like vaginismus, these muscles can involuntarily spasm causing any vaginal penetration (like with a finger or speculum for an exam), to be very painful or even impossible. Even if you have not been diagnosed with vaginismus, the pelvic floor muscles can also be tight and tender and make the exam painful. And let’s be honest, if an exam is painful you might push it off, or avoid it altogether. Waiting increases our risk of catching cervical cancer at a later stage which in turn leads to a poorer prognosis.
Don’t let pelvic pain stop you from getting important preventative care. If you are having trouble, see a pelvic floor therapist! A pelvic floor therapist can help address issues with muscle tenderness, tightness, and involuntary spasms so that you can have pain-free vaginal penetration, including pelvic exams, sexual intercourse, and tampon use. You can ask your provider for a referral or find one near you at www.mypfm.com/find-a-pt.
Ready to learn more about your pelvic floor muscles? Here are some helpful resources:
Watch our YouTube playlist on Pelvic Pain and Your Pelvic Floor
Watch Netflix for Your Pelvic Floor at Pelvic Flicks
Learn more about the pelvic floor muscles with our book: My Pelvic Floor Muscles The Basics
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Visit our Instagram page for more on pelvic health.
Find some of our favorite pelvic health items on our Amazon Store
Evidence Based Dilator Use in Pelvic Rehabilitation with Dr. Amanda Olson, PT, DPT, PRPC
Understanding and Treating Pelvic Pain with Dr. Lauren Trosch, PT, DPT, OCS
Pelvic Pain Strategies to Empower Patients at Home with Amanda Olson, PT, DPT, PRPC
Written by Emily Reul, PT, DPT
Basic information about cervical cancer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Aug 10, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/index.htm. Accessed Dec 14, 2023.
Cervical cancer statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Aug 10, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/statistics/index.htm. Accessed Jan 12, 2023.