A Pap test or (Pap smear) is a screening test for cervical cancer. The Pap test is recommended for all women starting at age 21 and continues through age 65 years of age. The Pap test looks for cell changes on the cervix that could advance to cancer if not evaluated and treated appropriately. HPV (human papillomavirus) is often tested with the Pap test. This is a virus that can cause cell changes on your cervix. During your cervical cancer screening the clinician will use a plastic or metal instrument called a speculum. This speculum is gently placed into your vagina and a warm light above helps examine your vagina and cervix. The clinician will collect cells and mucus from your cervix and place into a container to send to the laboratory. The laboratory will check for abnormal cells and HPV if this test is right for you.
Pap screening tests are often based on women’s age, and medical history. These screening tests are very important for detecting abnormal cells, pre-cancer, or cancer on your cervix. Professional groups of doctors and specialists from all over the world, called Societies, join in a large conference meeting and give expert opinions and make decisions on cancer screening tests and treatment if needed. These decisions are important to you because they are based on evidence and testing from women like you. Healthy women age 21-29 usually need a pap test every three years. It is not recommended to have a pap test every year.
The word “screening” means looking for disease (Abnormal Cells) hopefully before you have symptoms or problems. The cervical cancer screening test helps your healthcare provider find possible abnormal cells on your cervix before they advance to pre-cancer or cancer cells. This is called Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Finding abnormal cells early allows time for treatment if needed. Many problems found on this screening test can be treated. This test is not usually painful and your clinician will guide you privately through the exam.
Treatment is based on your test results. Several treatment options are available and recommended. Treatment should begin at age 21 yrs. old. This prevents treatment in young women who are at low risk for cervical cancer. The most common treatment option is observation for one year and then repeats the screening test. If a more advanced treatment is needed your healthcare provider will explain the recommended treatment plan and answer all questions.
Women can decrease their risk of cervical cancer and HPV by avoiding exposure to “high-risk activities.” These high-risk activities involve sex at an early age, multiple partners, or partners with multiple partners. Using a condom every time with sexual intercourse can reduce the risk of HPV and sexually transmitted infections. Never smoking or stopping smoking can reduce the risk of cervical cancer. There is also a vaccine (Gardasil) that can prevent some types of HPV infection. HPV vaccination is highly recommended to all women, as early as age 9 years of age. This vaccination is a series of three vaccine injections to be given over 6 months. Ask your provider about vaccination at your next visit.