A Pap smear is a screening test used to detect pre-cancerous or cancerous changes in the cells of a woman’s cervix. It is a relatively painless procedure whereby your medical provider will perform a visual inspection of the cervix and sweep the cervix with a special brush to obtain a cell sample for lab testing. The Pap smear requires a provider to insert a metal or plastic tool called a speculum into the vagina to widen the vaginal walls and view the cervix. While this process does not cause pain, a patient might feel a pinch or pressure during the test. The sample of cells is placed into a special container which contains fluid that cleans and fixes the cells, and it is sent to the lab for analysis. Results from a Pap smear may show changes in the cervical cells that could be signs of cancer or a precancerous change. Depending upon a woman’s age and Pap smear results or prior Pap smear history, the Pap smear fluid may also be sent for HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) testing.
A Pap smear is a screening test. When your provider receives the results of a Pap test, they come back either normal or abnormal. A normal result indicates that nothing out of the ordinary is happening with a woman’s cervix. An abnormal result may need follow up such as a repeat Pap smear, or a colposcopy (an in-office microscopic look at the cervix) to take a closer look at the cervix and vagina to pinpoint areas for a pinch biopsy, necessary to make a diagnosis and/or check for a precancerous or cancerous change.
It is recommended that women begin receiving Pap smears at age twenty-one. For women ages 21-65, the test should be administered every three years. Should a woman age thirty or older receive testing for HPV simultaneously, the Pap test can be done every five years. Having more frequent testing done may be recommended by a doctor if a patient is a candidate for certain health risks.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is an infection that is usually contracted by both women and men through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), and it often does not show any symptoms. Some types of human papilloma viruses can cause genital warts, while others have been found to cause cervical, anal, vaginal, and head and neck cancers. There is a vaccine available for girls and boys and young men and women ages 8 to 26 years, which may help to protect against contracting the viruses.