Pap test, also known as Pap smear, is an exam a doctor uses to test for cervical cancer in women. It can also detect changes in your cervical cells that may turn into cancer later.


What Happens During the Test?

It’s done in the doctor’s office or clinic and takes about 10 to 20 minutes. The Pap test doesn’t hurt, but you may feel a little pinch or a bit of pressure.

You’ll lie on a table with your feet placed firmly in stirrups. The doctor will insert a metal or plastic tool (speculum) into your vagina. It will widen the vaginal walls and allows the doctor to see your cervix. The doctor will use a swab to take a sample of cells from your cervix. The sample is send to the lab for review.


What Do the Results Mean?

You can have the result within a few days. If your results come back positive, it doesn’t mean you have cancer. You could have a slight inflammation or you might have minor cell changes (doctors call this “dysplasia”). These often clear up on their own so the doctor will likely suggest you have another Pap test in a few months. If the abnormal cells haven’t cleared up by then, your doctor may order more tests. These might include a procedure called a colposcopy. An instrument called a colposcope will help your doctor to get a better look at your cervix. Your doctor will swab your cervix with vinegar or some other liquid solution. It’ll highlight any suspicious-looking areas. Your doctor will be able to see them through the lens on the colposcope. If he finds areas that don’t look right, he’ll take sample biopsy. He’ll send the sample to a lab for further testing. He may swab your cervix with a chemical solution to limit bleeding.


How Often Should I Have a Pap Test?

Doctors recommend you should have the test every 3years from age 21 to 65. If you’re age 30 or over, you can have a Pap test every 5 years if you’re tested at the same time for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). That’s the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), and it’s linked to cervical cancer.

If you have certain health concerns, your doctor may recommend you have a Pap more often. Some of these include:

  • Cervical cancer or a Pap test that revealed pre-cancerous cells
  • HIV infection
  • A weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy, or chronic corticosteroid use
  • Having been exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth

Talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns. He’ll let you know for sure.

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