Everything You Need to Know About Pap Smears
A pap smear, formerly known as the Papanicolaou test, is a routine procedure during a pelvic exam that tests cells in the cervix. The process involves your doctor collecting cells from your cervix and examining them under a microscope. Although slightly uncomfortable, Pap smears are the best way to detect conditions such as infection, HPV, and even cervical cancer.
Who Should Get a Pap Smear?
Doctors recommend beginning Pap smear testing at the age of 21 until around age 60. If a Pap smear comes back abnormal, your doctor may test more often. If you are over the age of 65 or have had a hysterectomy, you may not need a Pap smear.
When scheduling a Pap smear with your doctor, be sure you take the proper precautions in order to get the most accurate results. Avoid the following before your exam:
- Having sex
- Using a tampon
- Using spermicidal treatments
Being on your period during a Pap smear is also not ideal, as cervical screening tests can show a false result due to the presence of inflamed cells. These may show as abnormal cells, even if they are not. Be sure to schedule your Pap smear after or before your cycle for the most accurate testing.
How Often Should I Get a Pap Smear?
In general, doctors recommend a Pap smear every three years; women over 30 can receive Pap smears and HPV screenings every 5 years. Depending on your medical history, this could change. Your doctor may recommend more frequent testing if you have these risk factors:
- A history of smoking
- A diagnosis of cervical cancer
- Exposure to DES before birth
- HIV infection
- Weakened immune system due to an organ transplant or chemotherapy
What Happens If My Pap Smear is Abnormal?
Chances are, you may experience an abnormal Pap in your lifetime. This is not necessarily indicative of poor health. This simply means that abnormal cells were found present during the test; it does not always mean you have cervical cancer. Positive results can mean different things depending on the type of cells discovered.
For an abnormal Pap, your doctor may want to dig deeper and perform a procedure called a colposcopy. They will use a colposcope, or a magnifier, to examine the tissues of your cervix and vagina. They may also take a sample, or a biopsy if anything looks abnormal during the colposcopy. After that, the sample is taken to a lab to determine the diagnosis.
It is important not to skip out on annual exams; this will keep you up to date on your vaginal and cervical health. If you have recently received a positive result or would like more information about the process, talk to your doctor. They will be able to tailor your visits and treatment and make sure it works for you.Back to blog