A Pap smear, also known as a Pap test, is a cervical cancer screening procedure for women. A Pap smear is a procedure that collects cells from your cervix, which is the relatively low, narrow end of your uterus that sits on top of your vaginal canal.
Cervical cancer can be detected early with a Pap smear, giving you a better chance of a cure. A Pap smear can also reliably detect a change in your cervical cells that indicate future cancer development. Identifying abnormal cells early with a Pap smear is the very first step in preventing cervical cancer from developing.
Why is it done?
Cervical cancer is detected using a Pap smear. A pelvic exam is normally done in combination with a Pap smear. The Pap test may be coupled with a test for human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection that is common and can lead to cervical cancer, in women over the age of 30. The HPV test may be used instead of a Pap smear in certain instances.
Who should have a Pap smear?
Your doctor can advise you when you should start Pap testing and how frequently you should get it. Doctors recommend starting Pap testing at the age of 21.
When should a Pap smear be done again?
Women between the ages of 21 and 65 should have their Pap tests repeated every three years, according to doctors. If Pap testing is taken in conjunction with HPV testing, women over the age of 30 should consider it every five years. Alternatively, rather than a Pap test, they could perhaps consider HPV testing. Irrespective of age, your doctor may suggest more frequent Pap smears if you have specific risk factors.
These are some of the risk factors:
- A cervical cancer diagnosis or a Pap smear that revealed precancerous cells
- Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure before birth
- HIV infection
- Immune system weakened as a result of organ transplantation, chemotherapy, or long-term corticosteroid use
- Smoking background
How do you get ready?
Follow these tips before your Pap smear to make sure that it is as effective as possible:
For two days before a Pap test, avoid sexual relations, douching, or even using spermicidal foams, vaginal medicines, creams, or jellies, as these could wash away or obscure cells that are abnormal.
Pap smears should not be scheduled during your menstrual period. If at all possible, having it done during this time in your cycle.
What to expect
A Pap test is a simple procedure that takes just a few minutes in your doctor’s office. You might be asked to undress completely or just up to your waist. On an exam table, you’ll be asked to lie on your back with your knees bent. Stirrups are the supports that keep your heels in place.
Your doctor will use a speculum to slowly and carefully insert an instrument into your vaginal canal. The speculum separates the walls of your vaginal canal so your doctor can see your cervix clearly. When the speculum is inserted, you may feel some pressure in your pelvic region. Then, using a flat scraping device referred to as a spatula and a soft brush, your doctor takes samples of your cervical cells in a process that’s not painful.
If your Pap smear seems to be abnormal, your doctor will perform a procedure called colposcopy, which involves examining the tissues of the vagina, cervix, and vulva with a special magnifying instrument (colposcope). The doctor might even take a tissue sample (biopsy) from any abnormal areas. After that, the tissue sample will be sent to a laboratory for analysis and a final diagnosis.