Let’s start with the simple truth that a Pap test can save your life. Getting a Pap test (or Pap smear) is one of the best things you can do to prevent cervical cancer, which is very curable when found early. Besides being one of the best tools to detect hidden, small tumors that may lead to cervical cancer, it’s simple and quick. Most health insurance plans cover Pap tests or cervical cancer screening at no cost to you.
So what is it? A Pap test takes a sample of cells from a woman’s cervix or vagina. It’s not painful, but may be a little uncomfortable when the doctor uses a speculum to widen the opening of the vagina. A tiny spatula or brush is used to collect cells from the cervix. Cells collected from a woman’s cervix are spread on a microscope slide for examination. Test results come back in about a week.
When Should I Get a Pap Test?
All women should get a Pap test when they are 21 years old or within three years after beginning sexual activity. After three consecutive tests that detect no abnormalities, routine screening is recommended every three years for women 21-30 years old. For women 30 to 65 years who have a normal Pap test with a negative HPV test, screening can be done every five years. Your doctor may schedule a repeat Pap test if not enough cells were collected during the test. Since decreased levels of the female hormone estrogen also can influence Pap test results, menopausal women may need to take estrogen before they repeat the test.
That said, women with certain risk factors, such as being HIV positive, or who have had a history of abnormal Pap tests, should continue to be screened more frequently.
What If I Get an Abnormal Result?
Although they are the best way to detect cervical cancer, Pap tests are not perfect. False results can be upsetting and confusing. An abnormal Pap test does not necessarily mean that cancer cells were found during the examination. Abnormal Pap test results could be caused by infection, inflammation, or changes connected to your menstrual cycle. Your doctor will evaluate the results to determine if further testing is necessary.
Do I Need to Get Pap Tests if I Have Had a Hysterectomy?
Most doctors would recommend that you continue to have Pap tests after a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix). Check with your doctor to determine if you still need Pap tests. Even women who no longer require Pap tests should see their doctor annually for pelvic exams.
To schedule a Pap test, contact Creekside Center for Women at (479) 582-9268.