What is a Pap test?
A Pap test is a screening test done during a pelvic exam. It checks for abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Abnormal cells can develop into cancer if they are not found and treated. Early cervical cancer does not cause any symptoms, so a pelvic exam of the female sex organs and a Pap test are needed to check for it. Cervical cancer is preventable and curable if abnormal cells are found and treated early. Pap tests have reduced deaths from cancer of the cervix in the US by 70% over the past 50 years. The Pap test does not find problems or cancer in other female organs.Pap tests also check for changes in the vagina and cancer of the vagina.The Pap test is also called a Pap smear or cervical smear.
What does it test for?
The Pap test checks for cervical disease. Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), a precancerous change in the cells, can be found with a Pap test. Some abnormal cells may develop into cervical cancer if CIN is not found and treated early. The Pap test can also find cancer early.The Pap test may also detect viral infections of the cervix, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes. It may detect vaginal infections such as yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or trichomonas. Sometimes the Pap test can give information about your hormones, especially progesterone and estrogen.
How often should I have a Pap test?
You should have your first Pap test at age 21. Then you should have a Pap test every 2 years until you are 30 years old. If you are 30 years old or older and have had 3 normal Pap tests in a row, talk to your healthcare provider about having Pap tests every 3 years instead of every 2 years. You may need more frequent Pap tests if you have a higher risk for cervical cancer. Some examples of risk factors for cervical cancer are:
- You have had an abnormal Pap test.
- You have a family history of cervical cancer.
- You or your sexual partner have had an HPV infection or genital warts.
- You or your sexual partner have a history of many sexual partners.
- You smoke.
- Your immune system is not working well because of cancer treatment (chemotherapy), immune-suppressing drugs (for transplants or autoimmune diseases), or an immune-suppressing infection, such as HIV.
- You have had a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
If you are over 65 years old, ask your healthcare provider if you can stop having Pap tests.You and your provider can decide what testing schedule is right for you based on your past test results. However, an annual physical exam continues to be important for other health reasons, including early detection of other types of cancer and other illnesses or problems.If you have had a hysterectomy to remove all of the uterus, including the cervix, for reasons other than cancer, you may not need to have Pap tests. If you had a hysterectomy because of cancer or abnormal cells, or if your cervix was not removed, you will need to keep having Pap tests as recommended by your healthcare provider.
How do I prepare for a Pap test?
- Do not schedule your Pap test during your menstrual period. The best time to schedule the test is 10 to 20 days after you expect to start your period.
- Do not douche for at least 2 days before the test.
- Do not use any creams or medicine in your vagina for at least 2 days before the test unless your healthcare provider tells you to do so.
- Do not have intercourse for 1 or 2 days before the Pap test because it can affect the results.
What happens during the procedure?
A Pap test is not painful. It takes only a few seconds and is done as part of a routine pelvic exam. You lie on your back on the exam table with your knees bent and the heels of your feet in stirrup heel holders. Your healthcare provider puts a speculum into the vagina. The speculum holds open the walls of the vagina so your provider can see the cervix. Your provider uses a small, soft brush and a small, plastic spatula to take a few cells from the cervix. The cells are sent to a lab for testing.
What happens after the procedure?
If the cells look normal, no treatment is necessary.If the Pap test shows that you have an infection, your healthcare provider may treat you for the infection. Your provider may suggest that you have another Pap test in several months.If the cells look abnormal, you may need more tests. Discuss with your provider when you should return for any tests or a follow-up exam.A Pap test is not 100% accurate. You may want to talk to your healthcare provider about the results. There are new methods available now for testing the cells collected by a Pap test, including computer-assisted testing. These new methods have been approved by the FDA and are more accurate. Most healthcare providers use these newer methods.Ask your healthcare provider when you should come back for another Pap test or pelvic exam.
What are the benefits of this procedure?
Pap tests can help detect precancerous and cancerous conditions. If these conditions are discovered, there is a good chance that simple treatment will prevent the development or spread of cancer. Pap tests are also useful for detecting some types of cervical or vaginal infections and hormonal problems.
What are the risks or disadvantages?
The Pap test is a screening test. If abnormal cells are found, your healthcare provider will do more tests to make a diagnosis. Also, sometimes the results may be inaccurate (false positive or false negative) and you may need more tests to check the results. @ Published by RelayHealth.
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.