A Pap smear, or pap test, involves scraping cells from the surface of the cervix to review under a microscope for signs of cancer or infection.
Why Have a Pap Test?
Pap smears are effective in early cancer detection or identifying infections and pre-cancerous cells that may develop into cervical cancer. With early detection, cervical cancer has a very high success rate for treatment.
Who Should Get a Pap Smear?
The basic Pap test screening guidelines below are determined by age and gynecological health. Your doctor may recommend a different schedule.
- Women over 21 should undergo regular cervical cancer screening
- Pap tests are recommended every 2-3 years for women aged 21-29
- Women 30-65 should have Pap smears every 3-5 years, depending on the test results and physician recommendation
- Over 65, women with three consecutive negative Pap tests or two negative Pap smears in the last 10 years may be eligible to forego future Pap tests.
Preparing for a Pap Smear
In order to preserve a good sample of cervical cells, you should refrain from the following for 24-48 hours before your Pap test:
- Sexual intercourse
- Taking a bath or douching
- Using a tampon, vaginal cream or birth control foam/jelly
In addition, you should avoid scheduling pap tests during your menstrual period. If unscheduled bleeding occurs, keep your appointment and your doctor will determine whether the Pap smear can be conducted.
Abnormal Pap Smear Results
In the event of an abnormal Pap test, additional testing may be required and could include a second Pap smear or a human papillomavirus (HPV) test. If more detailed screening is required, a colposcopy or biopsy may be recommended.