Which STDs Does a Pap Smear Check For?

When most people think of STD tests, they envision doctor’s offices and giving blood or urine samples. But your gynecologist may also be able to check for a particular STD during your Pap smear test.

What is a Pap Test?

A Pap test, also known as a Pap smear, is a test that screens for cervical cancer. The procedure checks for the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix, or the opening of the uterus.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer-related death in women around the world. Pap smears are the best way to detect cervical cancer.

During the procedure, your doctor will use a speculum, which is a small plastic or metal instrument, to open your vagina and view the cervix. A sample of the cells and mucus will be taken from the cervix and endocervix.

The procedure can be mildly uncomfortable, but generally not painful.

Women should, typically,  begin getting Pap smears starting at the age of 21. Some women who are at a greater risk of infection or cancer may need to be tested more often, such as those with:

  • HIV
  • A weakened immune system

Between the ages of 21 and 29, sexually active women should get a Pap smear every three years. After the age of 30, if your Pap smears have all been negative, your doctor may recommend testing every five years. Women who are aged 65 or older may no longer need Pap tests.

Do STDs Show Up on Smear Tests?

The main purpose of a Pap smear is to check for abnormal cells in the cervix. But the test can also detect certain viral infections, including human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is considered a sexually transmitted disease.

It’s important to note that not all Pap tests will necessarily check for the presence of HPV. The test must also include HPV testing on the sample taken from your cervix.

Other than HPV, a Pap smear does not test for STDs. STD testing is often done at the same time as a Pap smear, but the Pap test itself does not check for STDS aside from HPV.

This means that you will need to be tested separately for:

  • Gonorrhea
  • HIV
  • Chlamydia

If you are concerned about other STDs, you will also need to undergo separate testing for:

  • Herpes
  • Syphilis

To sum up: Pap tests can only check for HPV and cervical cancer. Pap smears should not be considered a form of STD testing for women. You’ll need to get a urine or blood test to check for common STDs.

How Do Gynecologists Check for STDs?

During a routine gynecological exam, also known as a pelvic test, your doctor will insert two gloved and lubricated fingers into your vagina while palpating your lower abdomen with the other. The purpose of the test is to check for pain, tenderness of bumps. Your doctor will check for visible signs of swelling, irritation or redness as well.

If your doctor notices any sores, he or she will likely recommend that you get tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

But it’s important to note that STDs don’t usually produce any symptoms. Unless you have genital warts or an outbreak of sores, your doctor likely won’t be able to determine whether you have STDs from a pelvic exam.

Gynecologists will check for STDs using the same methods that your general physician uses: urine or blood samples. An OBGYN STD test is no different than any other STD test.

Your gynecologist may be able to spot some symptoms associated with STDs, like inflammation and other suspicious symptoms, but generally, but the only way to know for sure is to get a blood test.

Why Women Should Get Tested for STDs More Frequently

Women typically get an STD test at the same time they get a Pap test, but this shouldn’t be the only time you get tested.

Pap smears are only performed every three years or so. If you’re sexually active with different partners, it’s important to get tested at least once a year.

Half of the population in the United States will have an STD by the age of 25. It’s common. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. But you do need to get tested. That’s the only way to know your status.

And believe me, your gynecologist has seen everything. If you’re worried that your doctor will judge you or belittle you if something is amiss, don’t be.

A Pap smear may not be able to check for STDs (aside from HPV), but your OBGYN can perform STD tests. It may be convenient to schedule testing during the same appointment as your annual exam. If you’re worried about privacy, you also have the option of doing an at-home test. Weigh your options, but do make sure that you get tested.

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