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Pap smears are screening procedures performed on the cervix to check for precancerous and cancerous cells. If any cervical cancer cells are detected during the Pap smear, the gynecologist will discuss with the patient what their next steps are going to be. These steps need to be done as soon as possible in order to prevent the cancer from spreading and accordingly becoming a larger health issue. It is not uncommon for patients to also be tested for HPV (human papillomavirus) at this time, as this common sexually transmitted infection has the potential to cause cervical cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer can often be found early and sometimes even prevented entirely by having regular Pap tests. If detected early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers.
WHY PAP SMEARS ARE NECESSARY
The signs of cervical cancer do not usually appear until it has reached its more advanced stages, making it essential for those who have a cervix to make regular Pap smear appointments to have the screening procedure performed. It may be necessary for those who are currently menstruating to reschedule their Pap smear, as test results often tend to be less accurate during menstruation. It is also recommended to avoid sexual intercourse, using a douche or using any type of spermicidal creams for at least three days before having a Pap smear performed.
What Pap smears can detect:
- Cervical cancer
- HPV (human papillomavirus)
- STD (sexually transmitted diseases)
THE FIRST PAP SMEAR
All women should have their first pap smear by the age of 21. If they were sexually active in their teen years, then they should make an appointment with a gynecologist for their first Pap smear within six months after their first experience of having sexual intercourse.
It is important for everyone when making their first appointment to let the gynecologist office know that it is their first appointment. It is also important for those who feel a little apprehensive about their first Pap smear appointment to understand that it will not be painful and that the gynecologist will let them know what is happening every step of the way.
WHAT TO EXPECT DURING A FIRST PAP SMEAR PROCEDURE:
- The patient must first undress to prepare for the procedure
- When the gynecologist enters the room, they will help the patient lie down on the examination table and place their feet in the attached stirrups, as this allows the gynecologist to perform the Pap test procedure in just a few minutes
- The gynecologist will then gently insert one or two fingers into the vagina in order to physically feel for any deformities (they will be using a glove with lubrication)
- They will then gently insert a speculum into the vagina, a special instrument that allows a gynecologist to actually look at the cervix so they can visually look for deformities
- After the visual inspection, they will then use a special instrument to carefully scrape off the cells in this area, which are sent to a lab for evaluation
- A patient can often expect to receive the results of their Pap smear within a few weeks
HOW OFTEN SHOULD PAP SMEARS BE PERFORMED?
A Pap smear should be performed every two to three years until a patient reaches the age of 30. If they have three of these regularly scheduled pap smears after the age of 30, they then will need to schedule a Pap smear at least every five years. Those who have been diagnosed with a weakened immune system, are HIV positive or have a history of smoking are considered to be at a higher risk for cancer and therefore may need to be seen more often. Ultimately, it is up to the gynecologist to decide how often a patient should come in to be checked for cervical cancer.
READY TO SCHEDULE YOUR PAP SMEAR?
If you are 21 years of age or older and have never had a Pap smear, then scheduling one today is highly recommended. A Pap smear is able to show any abnormalities you have in your cervical area, as well as test for other health issues that may be present, like HPV or HIV. The fact that cervical cancer and other cervical issues have a much higher chance of being successfully treated when addressed in its earliest stages simply makes it essential for you to make an appointment for a Pap smear on a regular basis.