What is a Pap Smear?
A Pap smear is a procedure that is done in your doctor’s office to test for cervical cancer. Cells are collected from your cervix, usually during a regular annual pelvic exam. In women over 30, this test may be combined with an HPV (human papillomavirus) test, as HPV can cause cervical cancer, or the HPV test can be done instead of a pap test.
Why is it important?
A Pap smear can detect the presence of cervical cancer very early on, making these tests a literal life saver. Cervical cancer was the leading cause of death in women in the first part of the 20th century, but thanks to today’s Pap smears, that is no longer the case. Because the Pap smear can detect abnormalities and precancerous cells in the cervix before they progress to cancer, a Pap test is one of the most reliable steps a woman can take to protect herself against cervical cancer. More than 90 percent of cervical cancer cases are curable when detected early. Precancerous cells can usually be removed easily, preventing the development of disease.
What happens during a Pap smear?
A Pap smear is a simple, easy procedure that may be a bit uncomfortable but does not usually cause any real pain. The procedure is over quickly, and should not be done if you are menstruating, as it may affect the test results. You should avoid using spermicidal products, douching, and sexual intercourse the day before the test.
The Pap smear is done using a speculum to keep the vaginal walls open and provide your doctor access to the cervix, which your doctor will scrape using a small device that may cause slight irritation during the cell collection process. You may experience slight pressure, cramping, or very light bleeding immediately after the test, which should dissipate quickly. Be sure to let your doctor know if any discomfort or bleeding continues.
How often should I have a Pap smear?
In the last decade or so, the standards have changed when it comes to the frequency of having a Pap smear done. In the past, your gynecologist may have recommended that you have a Pap smear done every year, starting at the age of 21, or three to five years after you become sexually active. Because of advances in technology, it is no longer necessary to have a test done every year. Women aged 21 to 30 with normal Pap smear results should have the test every two years. For women aged 30 to 65 who have had normal test results in the past, a Pap smear is recommended every three years. For those who are over age 65, have had a hysterectomy, and/or who are not sexually active, a Pap smear is not necessary unless test results have been abnormal in the past.
At Colorado Obstetrics and Women’s Health, our staff offers women complete, personalized, comprehensive care for all phases of life, from puberty through the childbearing years, into menopause and beyond. Give us a call today at (719) 634-8800 to schedule an appointment for a Pap smear, pregnancy test, or wellness exam. We look forward to helping you achieve your best health.