What is a Pap Smear?
A Pap smear, or a Pap test, is a procedure that involves collecting cells from the cervix in order to screen for cervical cancer in women. A Pap smear makes it possible to detect cervical cancer early and giving a greater chance at a cure. A Pap smear can also detect changes in cervical cells that suggest cancer may develop in the future.
When You Should Get a Pap Smear
A Pap smear is usually done along with a pelvic exam and may be combined with a test for human papillomavirus (HPV). In some cases, it may be recommended an HPV test be done instead of a Pap smear.
Meet with a specialist to discuss your current health situation to determine if a Pap smear is right for you, when it’s time for you to begin testing, and how often you should have the test. Generally, doctors recommend Pap smears at age 21.
When you meet with your specialist, it is always important to disclose if you’ve ever had an abnormal Pap test or if you might be currently pregnant.
How Often a Pap Smear Should be Repeated
When You Shouldn’t Get a Pap Smear
While Pap smear is a common, recurring procedure to screen for cervical cancer, it’s not for everyone. You shouldn’t have a Pap smear:
- You’ve received a diagnosis of cervical cancer or a Pap smear that showed precancerous cells
- If you were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth
- If you are HIV positive
- If you have a weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy, or chronic corticosteroid use
- If you have a history of smoking
Preparing for a Pap Smear
If your doctor has recommended Pap testing, there are several secondary concerns that need to be addressed first to ensure the Pap smear is most effective:
- Avoid sexual intercourse for two days before the procedure
- Avoid using feminine products (tampons) for two days before the procedure
- Avoid using any vaginal medicines or spermicidal foams, creams, or jellies for two days before the procedure. These may obscure any abnormal cells.
- Avoid scheduling a Pap smear during your menstrual period, because the blood may make the Pap test results less accurate
- Be sure to empty your bladder just before the test
What to Expect During a Pap Smear
A Pap smear is a safe way to screen for cervical cancer, but it isn’t a foolproof procedure. It is possible to receive false-negative results which indicate no abnormality even though there are abnormal cells present. Factors that can cause a false-negative include:
- An inadequate collection of cells
- A small number of abnormal cells
- Blood or inflammatory cells obscuring the abnormal cells
After the Pap smear, you will be able to continue your day without restrictions. Depending on the type of Pap test you received, the sample collected is transferred from the cervix into a container or a glass slide. The samples will then be sent to a laboratory where they’re examined for characteristics that may indicate cancer or a precancerous condition. A Pap smear can alert the doctor of the presence of suspicious cells that need further testing.
If your Pap smear appears to be abnormal, your doctor may perform a colposcopy to examine the tissues of the cervix, vagina, and vulva.
Results & Recovery After a Pap Smear
The test is performed in the doctor’s office and takes only a few minutes. You will be asked to undress completely or from the waist down. You’ll then lie down on your back on an exam table with knees bent, and your heels will rest in stirrups.
The doctor will then insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina. This will hold the walls of the vagina apart, so the doctor can easily see your cervix. You may experience a sensation of pressure in your pelvic area when the speculum is inserted. The doctor will then take samples of the cervical cells using a soft brush and a spatula.
How Advanced Gynecology Can Help
For more information, schedule an appointment today or call us to speak with one of our patient coordinators.