What Is a Pap Smear?
A Pap smear, also known as a Pap test, is a procedure used to test for cervical cancer in women. This screening procedure involves the collection of a sample of cells from a woman’s cervix, which is the lower narrow end of the uterus and is at the top of your vagina.
The collected sample of cells are then smeared or spread onto a microscope slide, so they can be sent to a lab for careful microscopic examination.
A Pap smear is a simple, quick and relatively painless screening test. Detecting cervical cancer early with a Pap smear gives you a greater chance at a cure.
A Pap test can also detect changes in your cervical cells that suggest cancer may develop in the future. Detecting these abnormal cells early with a Pap smear is your first step in halting the possible development of cervical cancer.
Pap smear has saved the lives of many women. Pap testing proved effective at detecting precancerous lesions, which represent early and still very treatable indicators of cervical cancer risk.
Do not worry: Occasionally a Pap report will show an infection caused by yeast or bacteria, or even some changes in your vaginal tissues due to low estrogen levels in menopause. These results are easily dealt with and are unrelated to HPV or cervical cancer.
Why Are Pap Tests Done?
A Pap smear, along with a pelvic examination, is an important part of a woman’s routine health care because it may detect abnormalities that can lead to cancer.
Most cancers of the cervix can be detected early, especially if women have Pap tests and pelvic examinations regularly. As with many types of cancer, cancer of the cervix is more likely to be successfully treated if it is detected early.
A Pap test is not only useful for detecting and diagnosing cancerous cells but it can also screen for other cervical and vaginal abnormalities including dysplasia (precancerous cells), inflammation and infection. Cervical cancer screening should begin at the age of 21 for all women, including those who are not sexually active.
How Is a Pap Test Done?
A Pap test is an in office procedure that only takes a few minutes. You will be asked to undress either completely or from the waist down and to put on a hospital gown. You will then lie down on the examination table with you knees bent and your feet resting in stirrups, your doctor will then gently insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina.
A speculum spreads the walls of the vagina so that the doctor can easily see your cervix. This may cause a sensation of pressure in your pelvic area. A cotton swab is sometimes used to clear away mucus that might interfere with the sample. Cells are then gently removed from the cervical tissues and from the back of the vagina by using a soft brush or a flat scraping device called a spatula. The doctor will then transfer the removed cell samples collected and put them onto a glass slide. This slide is then sent to a laboratory where they’re closely examined under a microscope for any abnormalities.
Typically the doctor will then perform a full pelvic examination upon completion of the Pap smear. Women may experience some light spotting or mild cramping for a few hours following the Pap test.
When Can I Expect the Results?
The results of the Pap smear are usually available within two to three weeks. At the end of Pap smear testing, each woman should ask how she should expect to be informed about the results of her Pap smear. If you have not been informed of your results after 3 weeks, please call our office.
What Are the Risks?
There are actually no known medical risks associated with Pap smears. There are more medical risks involved from not having a Pap smear. However there are certain factors or conditions that may interfere with a Pap test. Sometimes, the results can show abnormal cells when they are normal, this is called a false-positive result. The test may also not detect abnormal cells when they are actually present, this is called a false-negative. Some of the factors that can cause these incorrect results: the sample may contain too few cells or there may have not been enough abnormal cells to study,
An infection or blood may hide abnormal cells and douching or vaginal jellies, creams or medications may wash away or dilute the cells. To help prevent this, you should avoid:
- Sexual intercourse
- Vaginal medications & hygiene products for 2-3 days before your test.
You and your doctor can decide when it’s time for you to begin pap smear testing and how often you should have it done based on your individual risk factors.
Pap Smear FAQ
What Do the Results of Pap Smear Mean?
Positive results of your Pap Smear test indicate that unusual or abnormal cells on your cervix were found. However, you need to be aware that it does not necessarily mean that you have cervical cancer. In some cases, positive results of the Pap test signal that there have been cell changes caused by HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). Negative results of the Pap Smear test indicate that no abnormal cells were detected on your cervix.
How Often Should You Get a Pap Smear Test?
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists state that women should begin getting a Pap test at the age of 21. Additionally, it is advised to get another one every three years until the age of 65. An alternative option for women at the age of 30 and older would be to get a Pap test plus HPV test every five years.
How Painful Is a Pap Smear Test?
A Pap Smear procedure is not considered painful. Although, if you are getting your first Pap test, you might experience slight discomfort because it is a new sensation that your body is not used to. Patients normally say that it feels like pressure but every person has a different threshold for pain. Moreover, there are several underlying conditions that might make one person experience more pain than another.
How Much Is a Pap Smear Test?
If your health insurance plan does not cover a Pap Smear test, you will have to pay between $25 to $40. A liquid-based Pap test will cost you between $45 to $60. However, many states require insurance companies to cover regular Pap examinations. For patients whose insurance covers the test, out-of-pocket costs generally range from zero to the full fee depending on the deductible.
How to Prepare for a Pap Smear Test?
For an effective Pap Smear test, you have to follow several steps, which are as follows:
- Avoid douching, intercourse or use of any vaginal medicines, creams for two days prior to the test (as these might wash away or obscure abnormal cells)
- Do not schedule a Pap Smear procedure during your menstrual period
The information provided on this site is intended to educate the reader about certain medical conditions and certain possible treatment. It is not a substitute for examination, diagnosis, and medical care provided by a licensed and qualified health care professional. If you believe you, or someone you know suffers from the conditions described herein, please see your health care provider immediately. Do not attempt to treat yourself or anyone else without proper medical supervision.
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