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All About Pap Smear Test

Well woman exam and pap test are among our specialties at Star Family Medicine.
This page is for information purpose.. Only a doctor can make a decision regarding your specific situation.

What is a Pap test?

The Pap test, also called a Pap smear, checks for changes in the cells of your cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens into the vagina (birth canal). The Pap test can tell if you have an infection, abnormal (unhealthy) cervical cells, or cervical cancer. Drawing of the reproductive system

Why do I need a Pap test?

A Pap test can save your life. It can find the earliest signs of cervical cancer - a common cancer in women. If caught early, the chance of curing cervical cancer is very high. Pap tests also can find infections and abnormal cervical cells that can turn into cancer cells. Treatment can prevent most cases of cervical cancer from developing.
Getting regular Pap tests is the best thing you can do to prevent cervical cancer. About 13,000 women in America will find out they have cervical cancer this year. And in 2004, 3,500 women died from cervical cancer in the United States.

Do all women need Pap tests?

It is important for all women to have pap tests, along with pelvic exams, as part of their routine health care. You need a Pap test if you are: There is no age limit for the Pap test. Even women who have gone through menopause (when a woman's periods stop) need regular Pap tests.

How often do I need to get a Pap test?

It depends on your age and health history. Talk with your doctor about what is best for you. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends the following: You should have a Pap test every year no matter how old you are if: Women who are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are at a higher risk of cervical cancer and other cervical diseases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all HIV positive women get an initial Pap test, and get re-tested 6 months later. If both Pap tests are normal, then these women can get yearly Pap tests in the future.

Who does not need regular Pap tests?

The only women who do not need regular Pap tests are:

I had a hysterectomy. Do I still need Pap tests?

It depends on the type of hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus) you had and your health history. Women who have had a hysterectomy should talk with their doctor about whether they need routine Pap tests.
Usually during a hysterectomy, the cervix is removed with the uterus. This is called a total hysterectomy. Women who have had a total hysterectomy for reasons other than cancer may not need regular Pap tests. Women who have had a total hysterectomy because of abnormal cells or cancer should be tested yearly for vaginal cancer until they have three normal test results. Women who have had only their uterus removed but still have a cervix need regular Pap tests. Even women who have had hysterectomies should see their doctors yearly for pelvic exams.

How can I reduce my chances of getting cervical cancer?

Aside from getting Pap tests, the best way to avoid cervical cancer is by steering clear of the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a major cause of cervical cancer. HPV infection is also one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (Std). So, a woman boosts her chances of getting cervical cancer if she:

What should I know about human papilloma viruses (HPV)?

Human papilloma viruses are a group of more than 100 different viruses.

How would I know if I had human papilloma virus (HPV)?

Most women never know they have HPV. It usually stays hidden and doesn't cause symptoms like warts. When HPV doesn't go away on its own, it can cause changes in the cells of the cervix. Pap tests usually find these changes.

How do I prepare for a Pap test?

Many things can cause wrong test results by washing away or hiding abnormal cells of the cervix. So, doctors suggest that for two days before the test you avoid:

Should I get a Pap test when I have my period?

No. Doctors suggest you schedule a Pap test when you do not have your period. The best time to be tested is 10 to 20 days after the first day of your last period.

How is a Pap test done?

Your doctor can do a Pap test during a pelvic exam. It is a simple and quick test. While you lie on an exam table, the doctor puts an instrument called a speculum into your vagina, opening it to see the cervix. She will then use a special stick or brush to take a few cells from inside and around the cervix. The cells are placed on a glass slide and sent to a lab for examination. While usually painless, a Pap test is uncomfortable for some women.

When will I get the results of my Pap test?

Usually it takes three weeks to get Pap test results. Most of the time, test results are normal. If the test shows that something might be wrong, your doctor will contact you to schedule more tests. There are many reasons for abnormal Pap test results. It usually does NOT mean you have cancer.

What do abnormal Pap test results mean?

It is scary to hear that your Pap test results are "abnormal." But abnormal Pap test results usually do NOT mean you have cancer. Most often there is a small problem with the cervix. Some abnormal cells will turn into cancer. But most of the time, these unhealthy cells will go away on their own. By treating these unhealthy cells, almost all cases of cervical cancer can be prevented. If you have abnormal results, to talk with your doctor about what they mean.  

My Pap test was "abnormal," what happens now?

There are many reasons for "abnormal" Pap test results. If results of the Pap test are unclear or show a small change in the cells of the cervix, your doctor will probably repeat the Pap test. If the test finds more serious changes in the cells of the cervix, the doctor will suggest more powerful tests. Results of these tests will help your doctor decide on the best treatment. These include: The FDA recently approved the LUMA Cervical Imaging System. The doctor uses this device right after a colposcopy. This system can help doctors see areas on the cervix that are likely to contain precancerous cells.. It gives a score to tiny areas of the cervix. It then makes a color map that helps the doctor decide where to further test the tissue with a biopsy. The colors and patterns on the map help the doctor tell between healthy tissue and tissue that might be diseased.

My Pap test result was a "false positive." What does this mean?

Pap tests are not always 100 percent correct. False positive and false negative results can happen. This can be upsetting and confusing. A false positive Pap test is when a woman is told she has abnormal cervical cells, but the cells are really normal. If your doctor says your Pap results were a false positive, there is no problem.
Source: Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services.