As an adult woman, routine Pap smear should be part of your healthcare routine. It is the best way for your doctor to detect signs of serious health conditions in your cervix, such as precancerous cells, or even cancer.
What Exactly Is A Pap Smear?
A Papanicolaou test, also called a “Pap” smear or Pap test, is a procedure that is performed in your gynecologist’s office, usually as part of a pelvic examination. A Pap smear tests your cervix for cervical cancer and precancerous cells. Your cervix is located at the lower, narrow end of your uterus at the top of your vagina.
To have a Pap test taken, you will be positioned lying down on the examining table to enable your doctor to access your cervix through your vaginal canal. The doctor gently slides a special tool called a speculum into your vagina to hold open the walls of the vaginal canal. Next, your doctor goes in with a tiny spatula or brush and wipes your cervix. This instrument takes some cervical cell samples that are sent to a lab to be tested.
Why Is A Pap Smear Necessary at All?
A Pap smear is the best way to screen for cervical cancer and other abnormal cells on your cervix. It is usually done in conjunction with your annual well woman exam.
When Should You Begin Having Pap Smears?
You should begin having Pap smears when you turn 21. Your doctor can give you a recommendation as to when you should begin Pap testing and how often you should have the test.
Why Is It A Good Idea To Have A Pap Smear Annually?
Annual Pap testing is the best way to detect cervical cancer early. Cervical cancer can be a deadly form of cancer. Early detection gives you a greater chance at a cure. Most women between 21 and 65 should have a Pap smear at least once every three years.
Even if no cancer cells are present, having routinePap smears can detect changes in your cervical cells that suggest cancer may develop in the future. Finding any abnormal cells early helps to prevent the development of cervical cancer.
In some cases testing for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is done in conjunction with the pap test. If you are one of many women who has specific risk factors, you should discuss with your doctor whether having Pap testing done more frequently is advisable.
Common risk factors include:
- Prior diagnosis of cervical cancer or precancerous cells.
- HIV infection.
- Weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy, or chronic corticosteroid use.
- History of smoking.
Another reason to have Pap tests done regularly is to mitigate risks caused by false-negative tests. Pap tests are very reliable, but on rare occasions a patient can get false-negative results. A false-negative test means that the results show no abnormalities, but in fact there are changes in the cervical cells.
This can be caused by inadequate cell collection, insufficient amounts of abnormal cells to be identified in the test, or inflammation or blood obscured collection of abnormal cells. Because cervical cancer cells usually grow slowly, your next annual Pap test is likely to identify cell abnormalities early enough to treat it.
Are There Health Risks Associated With Having A Pap Smear Done?
A Pap smear presents very low health risks to the patient. Occasionally, you will feel discomfort, but no pain during the procedure. To minimize your discomfort, you should schedule your Pap test when you are not menstruating.
When Do You No Longer Need To Do Pap Testing?
You should continue getting Pap testing performed for as long as you are sexually active. You may no longer need to do so under the following conditions, but you should discuss your circumstances with your doctor:
1. You have had a total hysterectomy. A total hysterectomy means you have had your uterus and your cervix surgically removed for reasons not based on the presence of cancer or cancerous cells. If your hysterectomy was performed for a noncancerous condition, such as uterine fibroids, you may be able to discontinue routine Pap smears.
2. You are 65 or older. Some doctors suggest that routine Pap smears are not necessary for older women as long as their prior tests for cervical cancer have been negative.
Contact Raleigh Gynecology and Wellness to Schedule Your Pap Smear
If you need more information about Pap testing, consult with the experts at Raleigh Gynecology and Wellness. They are available to answer your questions about pap smears, pelvic examinations and any other issue pertaining to women’s reproductive health and wellness. Contact them to schedule an appointment.