A Pap Smear, also called a Pap test, is a screening procedure for cervical cancer. It tests for the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells on your cervix. The cervix is the opening of the uterus.
During the routine procedure, cells from your cervix are gently scraped away and examined for abnormal growth. The procedure is done at your doctor’s office. It may be mildly uncomfortable, but doesn’t usually cause any long-term pain.
WHO NEEDS A PAP SMEAR?
Screening should start at age 25. Some women may be at increased risk for cancer or infection. You may need more frequent tests if:
- You’re HIV-positive
- You have a weakened immune system from chemotherapy or an organ transplant
If you’re over 25 and have not had abnormal Pap tests, ask your doctor about having one every five years if the test is combined with a human papillomavirus (HPV) screening. Current guidelines recommend that people between the ages of 25 and 65 should have an HPV test every five years.
HPV is a virus that causes warts and increases the chance of cervical cancer. HPV types 16 and 18 are the primary causes of cervical cancer. If you have HPV, you may be at an increased risk of developing cervical cancer.
Women over the age of 65 with a history of normal Pap smear results may be able to stop having the test in the future.
You should still get regular Pap smears based on your age, regardless of your sexual activity status. That’s because the HPV virus can be dormant for years and then suddenly become active.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR A PAP SMEAR
You can schedule a Pap smear with your annual gynecological examination or request a separate appointment with Dr Barbara Karin Vela.
If you’ll be menstruating on the day of your Pap smear, your doctor may want to reschedule the test, since results could be less accurate.
Try to avoid having sexual intercourse, douching, or using spermicidal products the day before your test because these may interfere with your results.
In most cases, it’s safe to have a Pap smear in the first 24 weeks of a pregnancy. After that, the test may be more painful. You should also wait until 12 weeks after giving birth to increase the accuracy of your results.
Since Pap smears go more smoothly if your body is relaxed, it’s important to stay calm and take deep breaths during the procedure.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A PAP SMEAR?
Pap smears can be a bit uncomfortable, but the test is very quick.
During the procedure, you’ll lie on your back on an examination table with your legs spread and your feet resting in supports called stirrups.
Dr Barbara Karin Vela will slowly insert a device called a speculum into your vagina. This device keeps the vaginal walls open and provides access to the cervix.
She will scrape a small sample of cells from your cervix. There are a few ways she can take this sample:
- Use a tool called a spatula.
- Use a spatula and a brush.
- Use a device called a cytobrush, which is a combination spatula and brush.
Most women feel a slight push and irritation during the brief scraping.
The sample of cells from your cervix will be preserved and sent to a lab to be tested for the presence of abnormal cells.
After the test, you might feel mild discomfort from the scraping or a bit of cramping. You could also experience very light vaginal bleeding immediately following the test. Tell Dr Barbara Karin Vela if discomfort or bleeding continues after the day of the test.
WHAT DO THE RESULTS OF A PAP SMEAR MEAN?
There are two possible results from a Pap smear: normal or abnormal.
Normal Pap Smear
If your results are normal, that means that no abnormal cells were identified. Normal results are sometimes also referred to as negative. If your results are normal, you probably won’t need a Pap smear for another three years.
Abnormal Pap Smear
If the test results are abnormal, this doesn’t mean you have cancer. It simply means that there are abnormal cells on your cervix, some of which could be precancerous. There are several levels of abnormal cells:
- Severe dysplasia.
- Carcinoma in situ.
Milder abnormal cells are more common than severe abnormalities. Depending on what the test results show, your doctor may recommend:
- Increasing the frequency of your Pap smears.
- Getting a closer look at your cervical tissue with a procedure called colposcopy.
During a colposcopy exam, your doctor will use light and magnification to see vaginal and cervical tissues more clearly. In some cases, they may also take a sample of your cervical tissue in a procedure called a biopsy.
Regular Pap tests may help prevent cervical cancer by finding cervical cell changes in your body that would become cancer if left untreated. A Pap test helps find cervical cancer early before you have symptoms. A Pap test helps find cervical cancer before it spreads when it is easier to treat.
SOME PAP SMEAR TERMS WORTH KNOWING
Abnormal Pap Smear
If your Pap Smear test results are abnormal, Dr Barbara Karin Vela may recommend a colposcopy. Most women do not have cancer when they come in for a colposcopy.
Cervical Cancer Screening
Cervical screening (pap smear test) checks the health of your cervix. The cervix is the opening to your womb from your vagina. It’s not a test for cancer, it’s a test to help prevent cancer.
A cervical smear is a test that checks for changes in the cells of the cervix that, if untreated, may develop into cervical cancer. It is another name for a Pap Smear.
A cytobrush is a plastic tool used to obtain cells from the cervix during the procedure of a pap smear. Cytobrush. Cytobrush for sampling endocervical cells.
HPV is the name of a very common group of viruses. They do not cause any problems in most people, but some types can cause genital warts or cancer. HPV testing is part of cervical screening. There’s no blood test for HPV.
Papanicolaou Smear and Papanicolaou Test
In the 1940s, cervical cancer was a principal cause of death for women of childbearing age in the United States. Dr. George Papanicolaou was a Greek immigrant who initially began his academic career studying the reproductive cycles. While working together at Cornell University, they published Diagnosis of Uterine Cancer by the Vaginal Pap Smear in 1943. This significant work detailed how normal and abnormal vaginal and cervical cells could be viewed under a microscope and how they should be classified. Not long after that, the Pap Smear became the gold standard in cervical cancer screening, and it is still the primary screening tool for cervical cancer today
Another term for a Pap Smear test.