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What is a Pap Smear?

Pap Smear Photo Patient with Doctor

A pap smear is a simple procedure which tests for abnormal cervical cells, which can lead to cervical cancer. The test is performed on an exam table and is generally a painless and quick procedure. The doctor uses a speculum to open the vagina so that a sampling brush can be guided in to gather cells from the cervix. This sampling brush is then sent to the lab for study and results will be communicated to the patient after the lab examination is complete.

The 2 Types of Screening Options

Along with the Pap test, an HPV test is also recommended. HPV (human papillomavirus) is a virus that can cause cervical cancer.

These tests are both performed by taking cells from the cervix and tested. The Pap test looks for abnormal cells that may develop into cancerous cells over time. The HPV test looks for the strains of HPV that are most likely to cause cancer.

How Often Should I Get a Pap Smear? HPV Test?

It’s been determined that cervical cancer develops over many years, so the time between Pap exams has generally been expanded. However, it is still very important to visit their OB/GYN every year for an annual exam.

It’s important to note though, that some women may require more screenings than the typical recommended guidelines due to their medical history, weakened immune system, etc. This will be determined by your provider.

The Current Pap Smear and HPV Testing Guidelines

Currently, ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) recommends the following:

  • Women younger than 21 should be tested depending on their doctor’s recommendation. This can vary based on medical history, lifestyle, etc.
  • Women aged 21-29 should have a pap smear every 3 years. HPV testing alone can be considered for women who are 25 to 29, but Pap tests are preferred.
  • Women ages 30-65 years should have a pap test and an HPV test completed every 5 years, or a pap smear every 3 years. Or they can have HPV testing every 5 years.
  • Women aged 65 or older do not require testing if they have never had cervical cancer, abnormal cervical cells and have had three negative screening tests in a row.

Again, it’s important to remember that these are simply guidelines. Each woman’s medical history and health situations are different so your doctor may recommend more frequent testing.

Annual Exams are Still Important and Recommended

The routine visit to your OB/GYN is necessary for your overall health, and cervical cancer screening is just one small—but very important—part of that. Whether or not you are due for a Pap exam or HPV screening, you should still visit your OB/GYN at least once a year.

Annual exams are a good time to share information with your doctor regarding any number of concerns, such as:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Problems with sex
  • Birth control
  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Breast exams
  • Pelvic exams
  • Testing for STIs (sexually transmitted infections)
  • Getting necessary vaccines
  • Getting your blood pressure checked
  • Other general medical issues.

Follow-Up Testing is Important

If abnormal cervical cells are present, follow-up testing can reveal whether the abnormality is related to Human Papillomavirus (HPV) or cervical cancer. Cherokee Women’s Health will assist in diagnosing and treating cervical issues including dysplasia and cancer. With proper screening and prevention, cervical cancer diagnoses can continue to decrease.

Prevention is Key in Cervical Cancer Screening

Having a monogamous relationship, limiting the number of sexual partners, and using condoms are paramount to a woman’s health. Doctors advise that women receive the HPV vaccine, as well as pap tests, which will help to screen for any abnormalities and catch any precancerous cells (dysplasia) before they spread. Women who are found to have cervical dysplasia can receive treatment to prevent the cells from turning into cancer. Usually, this is removal of the abnormal cells. If cervical cancer is found to be invasive, surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be required to treat the cancer.

Make an Appointment Today

Pap smears and annual exams are a critical component of a well woman’s health exam. Schedule your appointment by calling us at 770.720.7733 or request an appointment online.