The Pap test ( Pap smear) detects cancers and precancers in the cervix (the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina). Precancers are cell changes that might become cancer if not treated the right way. Most health insurance plans cover Pap tests or cervical cancer screening at no cost .
What is a Pap test?
A Pap test is to check the cervix for abnormal cell changes. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (or womb), which opens into the vagina. The cell changes can develop on the cervix if not found and treated, can lead to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer can almost always be prevented by having regular Pap tests .
Why do I need a Pap test?
A Pap test can save your life by finding early signs of cervical cancer. When caught early, the chance of successful treatment is very high for cervical cancer is very high. Pap tests can also detect abnormal cervical cells before they turn into cancer cells. Treating these abnormal cells can help prevent most cases from developing into cervical cancer. Getting a Pap test is one of the most important things you can do to prevent cervical cancer.
Do all women need Pap tests?
Most of the women ages 21 to 65 should get Pap test as part of routine health care. You should have a Pap test even if you are not currently sexually active,. Women who have gone through menopause (when a woman’s periods stop) who are younger than 65 still need regular Pap tests.
Women who do not have a cervix (usually because of hysterectomy), and also who do not have a history of cervical cancer or any abnormal Pap results, do not need Pap tests. Women ages 65 and older who have had three normal Pap tests in a row without any abnormal results in the last 10 years do not need Pap tests.
Who does not need a regular Pap test?
The only women who do not need regular Pap tests are:
Women ages 65 and older who have had three normal Pap tests in a row without any abnormal test results in the last 10 years, and have been told by their consulting doctors that they don’t need to be tested anymore.
Women who do not have a cervix ( because of hysterectomy) and who do not have a any history of cervical cancer or abnormal Pap results.
All women should speak to a doctor before stopping regular Pap tests.
I had a hysterectomy. Do I still need Pap tests?
- It depends on type of hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus) you had and also your health history. Women who have had a hysterectomy should consult with their doctor about whether they need routine Pap tests.
- If you no longer have a cervix because you had a total hysterectomy for reasons other than cancer, you do not need Pap tests.
- If you had a hysterectomy because of abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer,then you should have a Pap test yearly until you have three normal tests.
- If you had your uterus removed but you still have a cervix ( type of hysterectomy is not common), you need regular Pap tests until you are 65 and have had three normal Pap tests in a row with no abnormal results in the last 10 years.
How often do I need to get a Pap test?
It depends on your age and health history. Consult with your doctor about what is best for you. Most women can follow these guidelines:
- If you are between ages 21 and 29, then you should get a Pap test every 3 years.
- If you are between ages 30 and 64, then you should get a Pap test and HPV (human papillomavirus) test together once every 5 years or a Pap test alone once every 3 years.
- If you are 65 years or older, then ask your doctor if you can stop having Pap tests.
- Some women may need more frequent Pap tests than others . You should talk to your doctor about getting a Pap test more often if:
- You have a weakened immune system because of chemotherapy ,organ transplant or steroid use.
- Your birth mother was exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant.
- You have had treatment for abnormal Pap results or cervical cancer in the past.
- If you are HIV-positive. Women who are living with HIV which causes AIDS, are at a greater risk of cervical cancer and other cervical diseases. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all HIV-positive women get an initial Pap test, and get retested 6 months later. If both Pap tests are normal, HIV-positive women can get yearly Pap tests in the future.
How can I prepare for a Pap test?
- Some things can cause incorrect or false Pap test results.
- For two days before the test do not:
- Use tampons
- Use vaginal creams, suppositories, or medicines
- Use vaginal deodorant powders or sprays
- Have sexual intercourse
- Use Douche
Can I get a Pap test when I have my period?
No. Doctors suggest you schedule a Pap test when you do not have your period. For Pap test the best time is 10 to 20 days after the first day of your period.
How is a Pap test done?
Pap is a simple and quick test ,Your doctor can do a Pap test during a routine pelvic exam. Your doctor will insert an instrument called speculum into your vagina and will open it to visualise your cervix , Then use a special stick or brush to take a few cells from the surface of and inside the cervix. The cells taken are placed on a glass slide and sent to lab for testing. A Pap test may be mildly uncomfortable but should not be painful. You also may have some spotting afterwards.
When will I get the results of my Pap test?
Usually it takes two to three weeks to get Pap test results. Most of the time,the test results are normal. If it is an abnormal test result then your doctor will contact you to schedule more tests. There are many reasons for abnormal Pap test results. Abnormal Pap test results do not always mean you have cancer.
My Pap test result was abnormal What happens now?
It can be scary to know that your Pap test results are “abnormal.” But an abnormal Pap test results usually do not mean you have cancer. Most often there is a small problem in the cervix. If results of the Pap test are unclear or show a small change in the cells of the cervix, your doctor may repeat the Pap test immediately,after 6 months, or a year, also may run more tests.
Few abnormal cells will turn into cancer. Treating those abnormal cells that don’t go away on their own can prevent almost all cases of cervical cancer. If you have abnormal results, talk with your doctor about the details. Your doctor should answer any questions you have and explain anything you don’t understand. Treatment for abnormal cells is often done in a doctor’s office during a routine appointment.
If the test finds more serious changes in the cells of the cervix, then the doctor will suggest more tests. Results of these tests will help your doctor to decide on the best treatment possible.
My Pap test result was a “false positive.” What does this mean?
Pap tests are not always perfect. There is a chance you get False positive and false negative results . This can be confusing and upsetting .
False positive. A false positive Pap test occurs when a woman is told she has abnormal cervical cells, but the cells are not actually cancerous or abnormal. If your doctor says your Pap results were a false positive, then there is no problem.
False negative. A false negative Pap test is when a woman is told her cells are normal, but there is actual problem with the cervical cells that were missed. False negatives delay the discovery and the treatment of unhealthy cells of the cervix. But having regular Pap tests boosts your chances of finding any problems. Cervical cancers usually take few years to develop. If abnormal cells are missed at one time on pap test , they will probably be found on your next Pap test.
How can I lower my chances of getting cervical cancer?
You can lower your chances of getting cervical cancer in several ways:
Getting regular Pap tests. Regular Pap tests help your doctor to find and treat any abnormal cells before they turn into cancer.
Get an HPV vaccine (if you are 26 or younger). Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by a type of HPV that is passed from one person to another through genital contact. Most women never know they have HPV as it usually stays hidden. While it sometimes goes away on its own, it can also cause changes in the cells of the cervix. Pap tests usually detect these changes.
Be monogamous. Having sex with just one partner can also lower your risk of cervical cancer.
Use condoms. Condoms are best way to prevent any sexually transmitted infection (STI), including HPV, the cause of most cases of cervical cancer, is to not have vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Using condoms during sex lower your risk of getting HPV and other STIs. Although HPV can also occur in female and male genital areas that are not protected by condoms, research shows that condom use is linked to lower cervical cancer rates.