Pap test is the sampling of cells from your cervix, which is the
lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. The Pap test
is also commonly referred to as the “Pap smear” and is
crucial in the early detection of cervical cancer. The Pap test is
performed as a part of your pelvic
exam. Pap tests can detect infections
and inflammation and other types of abnormal cells, known as dysplasia.
Remember that cancer is the rapid growth of abnormal cells. By testing
the cells in your cervix once a year in your annual Pap test, your
doctor will be able to determine if any abnormal cells are present.
If there are abnormalities, your test result will be positive. That
doesn’t mean that you have cancer, but it does mean you will
need to undergo further testing. This can include another Pap test
or a coloscopy, which allows your doctor to examine the cervix
and vagina very closely. Abnormal results might indicate an infection or a sexually
transmitted disease. Just like most clinical tests,
Pap tests are not 100% effective. That means that sometimes you
receive false positive, or even false negative results. The incidence
of false results is very rare, and can be helped by maintaining
regular yearly exams. Even though there is a margin of error, Pap
very reliable, and new improvements are constantly making the Pap
test even more efficient and accurate. An HPV screen may be used
to help evaluate an atypical Pap test.
You should have a Pap test regularly, which means once a year at
your annual visit to the ob/gyn. After you have had three successive
yearly Pap tests with normal results some ob/gyns will recommend
that you wait three years before your next exam if you’re over
30. This decision is up to you, and some women prefer to take the
necessary precautions and continue with the annual routine even if
it’s not completely necessary. Regardless of your schedule,
you should continue to have Pap tests throughout your life and even
If you have had a hysterectomy, your doctor might
tell you it isn’t
necessary for you to have a Pap test. However, if your hysterectomy
was due to cancer, then you should continue to have Pap tests,
and perhaps more often than once a year. Some women will decide
have any more Pap tests after they have had consecutively normal
results and have reached the age of 65. This decision is up to
each woman and her doctor.
Following these guidelines will make
it easier to detect abnormal
- Try to avoid using any perfumes or douche products up
to 24 hours before your Pap test.
- You should not schedule your
Pap test when you have your period.
- You also should avoid having
sex for 24 hours before your Pap test.
The Pap test itself is very brief. It consists of only a few
steps, and your ob/gyn is usually experienced with the procedure,
it as brief and painless as possible.
- During your Pap test,
you’ll be asked to lie back on the
table in the exam room with your feet nestled into stirrups
and your knees
falling to the side.
- Remember that you will have no clothes
on at the ob/gyn, but you will be covered by a paper robe or
- Your ob/gyn will insert a speculum into your vagina
to widen it. The speculum is a small, smooth plastic or metal
instrument that is gently inserted into the vagina to spread it
- Your doctor will then use a special stick, brush
or swab to remove a few cells from the inside and around the cervix.
- These cells are placed on a glass slide or into a special liquid
solutions and sent to a lab where they will be tested
for any abnormalities. Many women associate feelings of discomfort with the
and that is to be expected.
The combination of the stirrups, the
speculum and the slight scraping
sensation of the cell removal doesn’t necessarily contribute
to fond memories. Never let these apprehensions deter you from
getting a Pap test. Just remember that it’s very useful in
the detection and prevention of gynecological health problems,
cancer. In fact, cervical cancer is not life-threatening when caught
early. If it is caught in later stages, the cancer could spread
to other parts of your body and this makes it much more difficult