A Guide to the Pap Smear: What It Is, How it Works, and Why Every Woman Should Have One

Akademo-Garden.com is concerned about all types of health issues, especially preventative health. Thus, we are providing clear and concise information about this very common procedure that every woman should have performed regularly.

A Pap test or pap smear checks a woman’s cervix for cellular changes. The cervix, or lower part of the uterus, opens into the birth canal or vagina, and a Pap test can tell a doctor whether a patient has abnormal cells, cervical cancer or an infection. The test can save a patient’s life by detecting the earliest signs of cancer, and regular tests are the best preventive tool a woman has.

Does Every Woman Need a Pap Test?

It is vital for every woman to have a Pap test, as well as a pelvic exam, as part of routine care. Women need the test if they are:

  • 21 or over

  • Under 21 and sexually active for more than three years

The Pap test has no age limit. Even a woman who has entered menopause should get tested on a regular basis.

How Often Should Women Get Pap Tests?

A woman’s needs depend on her health history and age, and patients should discuss their needs with a doctor. However, there are some general recommendations.

  • Women under 30 should be tested each year.

  • Women 30 and older can be tested every two or three years if they’ve had three normal tests in consecutive years.

  • Women aged 65-70 who have had three normal tests and no abnormal results in the past decade may be able to stop having Pap tests.

Women with compromised immune systems due to chemo or HIV, as well as those whose mothers were exposed to DES (diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy, should be tested no matter what. These conditions put a woman at a higher cervical cancer risk.

Women Who Don’t Need Regular Tests

While it’s uncommon, some women do not need regular Pap tests. A woman over age 65 who has had a few normal tests, and who has been told by her doctor that the test is unnecessary, can avoid the test. If a woman has had a hysterectomy, she has little to no risk for certain cancers. However, she should discuss her risks and testing requirements with a doctor.

Do Women With Hysterectomies Need Pap Tests?

The answer depends on the nature of the hysterectomy, as well as the patient’s health history. A woman who has had this procedure should discuss Pap testing with her doctor. In most hysterectomies, the cervix is removed along with the uterus, and a woman who has had the procedure for non-cancerous reasons may not need regular testing. However, if a woman has had her uterus (but not her cervix) removed, she may need a regular Pap test.

How Women Can Reduce Their Chances of Cervical Cancer

Aside from regular Pap testing, the most effective way to prevent cervical cancer is to avoid HPV or the human papilloma virus. HPV is a primary cause of cervical cancer, and it is also one of the most prevalent STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). A woman’s chances of cervical cancer are elevated if she:

  • Becomes sexually active before 18

  • Has numerous partners

  • Has partners who are promiscuous

  • Has or has previously had an STD

Over 40 kinds of HPV are sexually transmitted, and many can cause cancer if they are not treated. Almost 75% of sexually active people will contract HPV, and many women do not get cancer. HPV rarely causes symptoms, which means that most women are unaware that they’re infected.

How the Test is Done

A doctor can perform a Pap test as part of a normal women’s health exam. The physician uses a speculum to open the vagina and view the cervix. From there, the doctor uses a special swab to take a few cells from the area. Those cells are applied to a slide and sent in for evaluation. While the test is usually painless, it may cause minor discomfort in some patients.

When the Results Will Come In

Typically, it takes several weeks to get the results of a Pap test, and in most cases, they’re normal. If they’re not normal, the doctor will contact the patient to schedule follow-up testing. There are numerous reasons for an abnormal test result, and most do not mean a patient has cancer.

While Pap tests are a useful tool, they are not always correct, and false positives and negatives can occur. This can be confusing and upsetting for many patients, but a doctor can provide reassurance in these cases.

If you are the DFW mid-cities area, such as Bedford, Arlington, Keller, or Grapefine, you can find a great lady’s clinic at www.gen-obgyn.com.