Whether it’s your first Pap test or you've had them for years, getting tested can be a tad unnerving. Knowing what to expect can ease your mind and make your visit more comfortable. Here are answers to common questions about Pap tests.
Pap stands for “Papanicolaou test,” a screening method that detects pre-cancer and cancer cells of the cervix. Your cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer worldwide. Approximately one out of four women carries HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer. Fortunately, one out of 1,000 women with HPV will develop cervical cancer in her lifetime. If your Pap test detects abnormal cells, you can easily get treatment before they develop into cancer.
Your doctor inserts a “speculum” into your vagina. This instrument allows your doctor to see and collect cells from your cervix with a tool similar to a long Q-tip. The collected cells are “smeared” on to a microscope slide and viewed carefully for abnormal cells. The test may be mildly uncomfortable, but is not painful.
All women should have a yearly physical examination. Typically, your doctor will perform a Pap smear at these intervals:
Your doctor will talk with you about the need for and timing of screenings if you've had a hysterectomy or a history that includes HIV, chemotherapy, cancer or abnormal Pap smears, or organ transplants.
Your doctor will contact you. He or she may recommend follow-up tests or more frequent Pap test screenings.
When women are screened regularly, and follow up on abnormal results, the Pap test can decrease cervical cancer death by 80 percent. The Pap test does not find all cervical cancers. However, over half of all invasive cervical cancers in the U.S. occur in women that have never had a Pap smear.
Yes. Get regular Pap tests, use condoms, get the HPV vaccine, and don’t smoke. These steps can decrease your risk of cervical cancer.
References (click to view)
4 ways to limit your cancer risk -- they can save your life
Sept. 14, 2016, In "Cancer Care"
What are your risks for oral cancer? Be aware
Aug. 11, 2016, In "Cancer Care"
Cancer treatments -- Might a cure already be inside you?
Aug. 24, 2016, In "Cancer Care"