What Is a Pap Smear?
A Pap smear (Pap test) is a test of a sample of cells taken from a woman's cervix. The test is used to look for changes in the cells of the cervix that show cervical cancer or conditions that may develop into cancer.
It is the best tool to detect precancerous conditions and hidden, small tumors that may lead to cervical cancer. If detected early, cervical cancer can be cured.
All women 18 or older should have Pap screen testing about three years after the onset of sexual intercourse or by age 21, whichever comes first. Yearly screening is recommended for women under 30 and then every 2-3 years for women over 30 with three consecutive normal Pap tests and a negative HPV test.
How Is a Pap Smear Performed?
The Pap smear is done during a pelvic exam. A doctor uses a device called a speculum to widen the opening of the vagina so that the cervix can be examined. A plastic spatula and small brush are used to collect cells from the cervix. After the cells are taken, they are placed into a solution. The solution is sent to a lab for testing.
Is the Pap Smear Painful?
A Pap smear is not painful, but the pelvic exam may be a little uncomfortable.
When Will I Know the Results of the Pap Smear?
What Do the Results of a Pap Smear Mean?
A normal Pap smear means the cells from the cervix look normal. An abnormal Pap smear means the cells do not look normal. Sometimes repeat Pap smears are needed. Different tests also may need to be done, such as a colposcopy (the use of a special microscope to examine the cervix and vagina).
Pap smears can occasionally show signs of infection but cannot be relied on to screen for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Other tests are necessary to determine the presence of an STD. There are several things you can do to help make the Pap smear as accurate as possible. These include avoidance of sex, douching, and vaginal creams for 48 hours before the test.
What Happens If the Results Are Abnormal?
An abnormal Pap smear does not necessarily mean that cancer cells were found during the examination. There are many causes for abnormal Pap smear results. Your doctor will evaluate the results to determine if further testing is necessary.
Why Would I Need to Repeat the Pap Smear?
A repeat Pap smear may be necessary if you had an infection at the time of the test or if there were not enough cells collected during the test. Since decreased levels of the female hormone estrogen also can influence Pap smear results, menopausal women may need to take estrogen before they repeat the test.
If the results of the repeat Pap smear are still abnormal, your doctor may recommend that you have a colposcopy to further evaluate the problem.