A Pap smear is a test used to screen for cervical cancer. A health care professional will collect a sample of cells from your cervix and cervical canal. The sample is then examined for any abnormal cell changes.
Cervical cancer is most often caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a virus that is passed from person to person through sexual contact.
Having regular Pap smears can help find changes in the cells of your cervix before cancer develops. This can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early – when it’s easiest to treat.
Most women with an HPV infection will not develop cervical cancer. However, some types of HPV can cause changes in the cells on your cervix that can lead to cancer over time. That’s why it’s important to have regular Pap smears as recommended by your health care professional, even if you don’t have symptoms.
How often should I get a Pap smear?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women get a Pap smear every three years starting at age 21. If you are between the ages of 30 and 65, you may be able to get a Pap smear less often – every five years – if you also get an HPV test every five years.
You may need to be screened more often than every three years if you have certain risk factors such as:
- A history of abnormal Pap smears
- A history of cervical, vaginal, or vulvar cancer
- DES exposure before birth (if your mother took DES while she was pregnant with you)
- An HIV infection
- Weakened immunity due to organ transplant, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy
- Other chronic health conditions
- Certain types of vaginal discharge
- If you have been treated for precancerous cells in the past
Talk with us about how often you should be screened for cervical cancer based on your individual risk factors. Depending on your results, we’ll recommend more frequent screenings.
The Pap smear test is a simple and quick procedure that can detect early signs of cervical cancer. Here are 5 reasons why you should make sure to get a Pap smear test done:
- The earlier cervical cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat.
- It only takes a few minutes to get the test done.
- It is painless and relatively comfortable.
- It is covered by most insurance plans.
- It could save your life!
What Happens During a Pap Smear Test?
A Pap smear test involves your doctor gently swabbing your cervix with a small brush to collect cells from your cervix. These cells will then be examined under a microscope for any abnormalities. The entire appointment usually takes less than 10 minutes from start to finish and you should receive your results within 1-2 weeks.