Let’s face it, none of us are particularly thrilled when it comes time for our regular pelvic exam and pap smear. Laying there with your legs in the stirrups (and making awkward small talk with your doctor), you might start dreaming about the day when you can finally put an end to those uncomfortable check-ups. If you’ve been assuming that will be a silver lining to hitting menopause, we’re unfortunately going to have to burst your bubble.
Don’t get us wrong, with everything else that happens during “The Change” — hot flashes, mood swings, and lack of sleep, to name a few — it would be nice to at least look forward to a “get out of jail free” card for pap smears. But according to the Mayo Clinic, you’ll have to wait a bit longer. Let’s break things down.
The North American Menopause Society claims most women reach menopause in their late 40s and early 50s. Before that, they experience perimenopause for years before their menstrual cycle completely ends. This phase can start in your 30s with irregular periods popping in and out whenever your hormones feel like it. Of course, like any other time you notice something out of the ordinary going on with your body, you should definitely consult your doctor. They’ll be able to confirm or deny whether you are in the first stage of menopause. They will also likely recommend you continue your regularly scheduled pap smears and exams, especially if you’re sexually active or have had any previously abnormal test results.
Perimenopause includes a lot of those pesky symptoms we associate with regular menopause, so it can make you think you’ve already passed the initial phase. But full menopause happens only when you’ve gone an entire year without a period, which again typically occurs in your late 40s or 50s.
Despite dealing with hormones, you’ll need to maintain your regular pelvic exams until you’re about 65. We wish we could give you the go-ahead for an earlier pap retirement, but the Mayo Clinic points out that those check-ups test for signs of cervical cancer, which can happen throughout menopause. The only case where you have a better chance of saying “so long” to pap smears and pelvic exams before your 60s is if you have a hysterectomy. In all cases, it will depend on your personal health history and what your doctor thinks is best.
Bottom line: Even if you’re post-menopausal before 65, you’ll still need to deal with the stirrups for a little awhile longer.
There is still one silver lining, though — think of all the money you’ll get to save not buying tampons and pads! You can even start a stash of cash to pamper yourself with after your next visit to the ob-gyn.