You may have thought that since you don’t need a Pap test every yearyou’re off the hook when it comes to regularly checking in with your gyno. It’s no one’s idea of a fun 15 minutes after all, so why not skip it? According to a recent survey from Genentech and the Foundation for Women’s Cancer, 25 percent of women who haven’t been to the ob-gyn in the last year haven’t gone because—surprise, surprise—they don’t like going.
Grumble about it as much as you want, but there are worthy reasons to get a checkup. For starters, women between the ages of 21 and 65 should get a Pap test every three years, or a Pap and an HPV test every five years if they’re over 30 years old, according to the US Preventive Services Task Force. (Ending screening at age 65 depends on a woman’s individual risk for cervical cancer.)
Plus, you’re not just going for Pap and HPV tests. “These appointments are important for preventive care,” says Sharyn N. Lewin, M.D., medical director of gynecologic oncology at Holy Name Medical Center in New Jersey. “Women still may need a pelvic exam to examine the cervix, uterus, and ovaries. And these visits are opportunities for gynecologists to speak about the importance of maintaining ideal bodyweight, exercising, eating a healthy diet, and how these lifestyle factors affect gynecologic cancer risk.”
Convinced yet? At the very least, you can try to make the appointment a little less awkward and uncomfortable with these tips. (Make 2017 YOUR year by taking charge of your health and jump-starting your weight loss with the Prevention calendar and health planner!)
1. Find a Doc Who Makes You Feel Safe
It goes without saying that you’d like the office to feel friendly and welcoming—but it’s OK to leave if you don’t. “Shop around for a doctor that makes you feel more positive about the experience,” says Lewin. That might mean asking around for a friend or family member’s recommendation or even peeking at decor in a waiting room. “Impersonal, sterile environments don’t feel as friendly,” adds Lewin. (And watch out for these red flags at the gynecologist’s office.)
2. Then, Tell Your Doctor When You’re Feeling Weirded Out
Once you’ve found that gyno who makes you feel a bit more at ease, ‘fess up to your heebie-jeebies. “Talk to your doctor about your fears or concerns,” says Lewin. That way, he or she knows to check in with you throughout the appointment, to carefully explain what’s going to happen next, and to make sure you’re never too uncomfortable. (Don’t be afraid to bring something up—your gynecologist has seen some pretty interesting things.)
3. Prepare for Discomfort Ahead of Time
If you know you’re typically in legit pain at the appointment or afterward, it’s totally OK to plan ahead. “Take a little ibuprofen before you go,” says Lewin. “That might help make the exam a little less painful.”
4. Schedule Accordingly
If you’re familiar with pain or sensitivity at your appointment, you might be visiting at the wrong time of the month. “Sometimes the pelvis is more sensitive around ovulation,” Lewin says. If you’re premenopausal, consider making your next appointment right after your period to avoid that painful window. (Here are 9 things your gynecologist wishes you’d stop doing.)
Also, like with just about any doctor’s appointment, your gyno is less likely to be running late if you shoot for an appointment as early as possible in the day. However, take your own busy schedule into account, too. “If you’re not rushing to work or a meeting or other obligations, you might feel more relaxed during the exam,” says Lewin.
5. Consider Lube (Really!)
Vaginal dryness certainly doesn’t improve visits to the ob-gyn. While hormone therapy has to be an individual woman’s decision along with her doctor, estrogen that’s used only in the vagina is considered very safe, even for women with a history of cancer, says Lewin, for whom oral estrogen is typically not recommended. Vaginal estrogen and even nonhormonal vaginal moisturizers can relieve pain and discomfort from dryness anytime, but could be particularly helpful if you’ve been dreading the ob-gyn, she says.