Pap Smear – A Step-by-Step Look at What Happens During Pap Test

A pap smear also known as pap test is a quick painless medical procedure in which sample cells are collected from a woman’s cervix and examined for abnormal changes. Pap test can detect precancerous changes of cervical cells and cervical cancer.

Pap smear is performed during the time when women are not having her period and is usually between 10 to 20 days after the first day of her period. To ensure the test is performed correctly doctors recommend that for 2 days before the test women should avoid douching, using vaginal creams or vaginal medicines that could alter the test results.

Pap test is performed during pelvic exam and as a woman lie on her back on the exam table, the doctors use an instrument called a speculum which is inserted into the vaginal opening to examined the cervix. A small brush is then inserted into the opening of cervix to collect sample cells that are placed on glass slide and send to the lab for further analysis. It may take between two to three weeks before pap test results can be made available.

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Pap test may result in some false positive and some false negative. False positive is when a woman is tested for abnormal cells when in fact the cells are normal. False negative is when a woman is tested for normal cells when in fact the cells are abnormal. Women who have regular pap test have higher chance of finding abnormal cells that were missed during initial test and more likely to be discover during the next pap test.

If pap test result in abnormal cells after numerous tests, there are different types of treatment available to treat abnormal cells and these include conization, loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), cryotherapy, and laser therapy. Conization involves removing a cone-shaped tissue from the cervix and examined under a microscope. LEEP uses electricity to destroy abnormal tissue, cryotherapy involves freezing abnormal cells, and laser therapy uses heat to burn abnormal tissue.

Early detection is the best method of prevention of cervical cancer. Regular pap test can help to detect early sign of cervical cancer and allow for early treatment. Getting early treatment increases the chance of curing the disease and prevents cervical cancer from developing and spreading to other organs.

Women who are age 21 should have pap smear every 2 years to check for early sign of abnormal cervical cells. Women who are over 30 years old and have been tested negative for 3 years in a row may switch to having pap test done every 3 years with the recommendation of their doctors. Women who are over 65 years old can stop having pap smear if they have been tested negative 3 times within the past 10 years and with the recommendation of their doctors.

Women who underwent total hysterectomy and had their cervix removed along with uterus for non cancer condition may not require regular pap test. Women who underwent total hysterectomy with previous case of precancerous condition need to be tested yearly until they get three negative test results. Women who underwent hysterectomy and only had their uterus removed should continue with regular pap test.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV are viruses that cause genital warts and is mainly transmitted through sexual interaction. Women who engage in risky sexual behavior such as having multiple sexual partners, having unprotected sex, or having sex at a young age increase the risk of HPV infection and cervical cancer. Women who have or had genital warts are also at high risk of getting cervical cancer. Women who smoked frequently and those who are exposed to second hand cigarettes smoke also have higher risk of getting cervical cancer.

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