Stirrups-Free Pap Smear May Be a Welcome Option

ByABC News
March 24, 2008, 12:21 AM

Mar. 23 -- FRIDAY, June 22 (HealthDay News) -- Women who know they should get regular Pap smears but dread the stirrups that go along with the test may finally get a reprieve.

New research shows that Pap results are just as accurate when the screen is performed with the patient keeping her feet on the examining table.

There was a real bonus in terms of comfort, too.

"There's about a 50 percent reduction in physical discomfort if women did not use the stirrups," said lead researcher Dr. Dean Seehusen, a family physician at the Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon, in Augusta, Ga. Women also said they felt psychologically less vulnerable, he said.

Seehusen, who published his findings recently in the British Medical Journal, remains hopeful that the practice of giving women a choice -- stirrups or no stirrups -- will catch on.

It could even boost women's health by inspiring them to have the exam more regularly, he added.

Seehusen said he had long suspected that one reason some women avoid potentially lifesaving Pap smears, and the accompanying pelvic exam, is due to the anxiety and discomfort of the stirrups position.

It can raise real anxiety in some women, he said, because "when your feet are in the stirrups you cannot easily get out." Women with mobility problems can also have an especially difficult time, he said. On top of those issues, many stirrups are cold to the touch, as well.

The study involved 197 women, ages 18 and up, who had come to the medical clinic for their annual pelvic exams. They were assigned to undergo the Pap test either in the stirrups or not.

After the tests, the women answered questions about their physical comfort, as well as their psychological sense of vulnerability and loss of control.

The result: The quality and accuracy of the Pap smears were similar, regardless of whether stirrups were used or not.

Seehusen's advice: "If a woman thinks she wants to try this method, she should ask her provider," he said.