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Why is a Pap smear done?
A Pap smear is a diagnostic procedure used to test for cervical cancer in women. It involves collecting cells from your cervix (the lower, narrow end of your uterus at the top of your vagina). Early detection of cervical cancer gives you a greater chance of a cure.
A Pap smear can also detect changes in cervical cells that suggest the development of cancer in the future. Detecting abnormal cells is the first step in stopping the possible development of cervical cancer.
When should I start having Pap smears?
You should discuss this with your doctor however it is generally recommended that testing starts once you become sexually active. In most cases cervical cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted disease called human papilloma virus (HPV) but there are other risk factors like a family history of cervical cancer or smoking. It is important to discuss your risk factors with your doctor at your annual examination.
When do I no longer require a Pap smear?
Your doctor will advise at what point in your life it is no longer necessary to have a Pap smear test.
If you have a partial hysterectomy and your cervix (lower section of your uterus) remains your doctor will most likely continue Pap smear testing. If you’ve had a hysterectomy for a precancerous or cancerous condition your doctor will continue Pap smears for early detection of new precancerous or cancerous cells. If a Pap smear is no longer required as advised by your doctor it is still important to schedule an annual pelvic and breast examination.
How often should I have a Pap smear?
A Pap smear is a safe procedure to screen for cervical cancer; however it is not completely fool proof. It is possible to have a false negative due to inadequate cell collection, a small number of abnormal cells or blood/inflammatory cells obscuring the abnormal cells. Cervical cancer takes several years to develop so although abnormal cells may go undetected in one test they will certainly be detected in your next test. For this reason it is important to be tested annually.
How to prepare for a Pap smear
Try not to schedule a Pap smear during your menstrual period. Although the test can be done it is best to avoid this time of your cycle if possible. The Pap smear is performed in your doctor’s office, it only takes a few minutes but is usually done with your annual pelvic and breast examination. You will lie down on the examination table with your knees bent and the doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina to hold your vaginal walls apart so that your cervix is clearly visible. A soft brush called a spatula will be used to take the sample. This is usually painless. After your Pap smear you will continue your day without any restrictions.
Pap smear results
A Pap smear can forewarn your doctor of suspicious cells which require further testing. If there are no abnormal cells, you have a negative result and no further testing is needed until your next annual examination. If you have abnormal cells, you have a positive result. This does not mean you have cervical cancer. Depending on the type of abnormal cells found your doctor will decide the best test or treatment necessary. If you have not had a Pap smear done in a year then I strongly advise you make an appointment with your healthcare provider.