Pap Smears 101: Everything You Need To Know

A pap smear is a simple and quick procedure that can help detect cervical cancer early. If you are due for your pap smear or are just curious about it, read on for more specific information about this procedure.

What Happens During a Pap Smear?

During a pap smear, your doctor will use a speculum to widen your vagina. They will then use a swab or brush to get the cells from your cervix. The collected cells are sent to a laboratory for analysis.

It generally takes about a week or two to get the results of a pap smear. If the test detects abnormal cells, follow-up testing may be necessary to determine if cancer cells are present.

In most cases, cervical cancer can be successfully treated if it is caught early. For this reason, women should get regular pap smears as recommended by their health care providers.

How Often Should You Get a Pap Smear?

Experts recommend that women get a pap smear every three years starting at age 21. However, some women may need to get them more often, depending on their individual risk factors. For example, women who have had the human papillomavirus (HPV) may need to get pap smears more frequently.

HPV is a common virus, and exposure does not mean that a woman will develop cancer. However, some strains of HPV can cause cancer of the cervix, and it is important to catch any abnormal cells early. Regular pap smears can identify these cells so they can be treated before they turn into cancer. 

Even after your HPV vaccination, you still need regular pap smears. The vaccine is effective against some strains of the virus, but not all of them. So, it is still possible to develop cervical cancer even if you have been vaccinated.

When Should You Stop Considering a Pap Smear?

There are certain circumstances in which a woman may need to stop getting pap smears. For example, women above the age of 65 who have had several negative pap smears may discontinue screening. 

In addition, women who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) may no longer need to have pap smears. But if the hysterectomy resulted from cervical cancer, pap smears may still be recommended for a few years after the surgery. That's because there is a chance that cancer can still develop in the vaginal area.

Contact an OBGYN like Dr. Ronald Cypher MD to learn more.