Each year, more than 14,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer. The good news is that vaccination and routine screening for abnormal cells can prevent cervical cancer.
The screening tool for cervical cancer cells is called a Pap smear. This test can identify abnormal cells in your cervix that could become cancerous. A Pap smear is also helpful in detecting any signs of other inflammation or infection that could cause further complications.
Read on to learn more about what to expect from a Pap smear and why getting one regularly is crucial.
The primary aim of a Pap smear is to screen for early warning signs of cervical cancer. We take a sample of cells from your cervix during the test. These cells are checked for cancerous or precancerous cells and human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) that increases your risk of developing cervical cancer.
For women over age 30 and older, testing positive for HPV indicates that you are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer, so we may suggest that you get Pap smears done more frequently then the recommended every three years for the age group.
To prepare a Pap smear, avoid any sexual activity at least two days before your test, and schedule your appointment at least five to seven days after your last period.
During the procedure, we gently insert a tool called a speculum into your vagina. This tool opens up your vagina for easy access to your cervix. We then gently scrape some cells from your cervix using a small brush.
The entire process only takes a few minutes and can be mildly uncomfortable for some women.
All women above the age of 21 should get routine Pap smears. Women above 65 don’t typically need Pap smears.
If you are 21-29, you should get a Pap smear done at least once every three years. Women ages 30-65 should also get a Pap smear done every three years but may choose a combined HPV and Pap test every five years.
Certain factors call for more regular screenings, including:
When you schedule an appointment with us, our medical team is in the best position to determine how often you should get Pap smears.
We just marked Cervical Health Awareness Month in January to raise awareness about cervical cancer and HPV vaccination, but it’s not too late to schedule a checkup and Pap smear. This test remains one of the most crucial tools in the fight against cervical cancer.