Pap smears or Pap tests are a test of cells of the cervix and are used to detect the presence of abnormal cervical cells which can cause cervical cancer. The cervix is the opening between the uterus and the vagina. A Pap test is not painful but can be uncomfortable and cause spotting or light bleeding afterward.
How often should one get a Pap Smear test?
Most women between the ages of 21 to 69 are suggested to have regular Pap smear tests. Below is mentioned how often do females of different ages need to undergo a Pap test-
- Women under 21 years of age- No screening necessary (no HPV testing)
- Women between 21 to 29 years of age- Should have a Pap smear every three years (HPV testing with abnormal results recommended)
- Women between 30 to 65 years of age- Should have a Pap test and HPV test every 5 years (or every 3 yr, but not HPV testing alone). These 2 tests are called “co-testing.”
- Women of the age 65 and over- No screening (Unless she has a history of abnormal pap tests)
Females who have HIV or ones with weakened immune systems, a history of precancerous cells in the cervix or a history of cervical cancer should have Pap tests more often. Consult your gynecologist for testing recommendations for you.
What does a Pap Test detect?
Pap smear tests are not designed to detect or diagnose cervical cancer. Pap tests are carried out to detect “cervical dysplasia” or precancerous changes in the cervix. If abnormal cells are detected in a female’s pap smear, the gynecologist can take steps to figure out the reason behind these changes and treat the condition before it turns to cancer.
How to prepare for a Pap Smear?
The presence of other substances in the vagina can lower the accuracy of a Pap test. It is recommended that women should avoid douching or having sexual intercourse 2 to 3 days prior to having a Pap test in order to get more accurate results. Women are also suggested to not undergo a pap smear test during their periods as the presence of blood may hinder the accuracy of the tests.
What Happens During a Pap test?
Pap smear tests are generally painless and are mostly done during a pelvic exam itself. The gynecologist will position the female on the exam table and insert a speculum, an instrument used to widen the vagina during the pelvic exam. The doctor can then have a better view of the vagina, vaginal walls, and the cervical area.
The doctor will then gently swab the cervix with a soft brush or cotton swab to collect cells from the surface. The cells are then sent off for analysis to check the presence of any abnormal cells.
What if a female has an Abnormal Pap Smear?
An abnormal Pap test means there are abnormal cells identified on the female’s cervix. Depending on the type of cells found, the doctor may recommend the repetition of the test in 4 to 6 months. The doctor may also suggest the female undergo a colposcopy to get a better look at the cervix and take tissue samples for biopsy to determine what types of cells are present.
Pap smears can be uncomfortable for some. However, it is an important measure to ensure the health of women of all ages. Talk to your gynecologist to know how often you should have a Pap smear.