Annual checkups with a gynecologist allow for preventive treatment and early detection of health problems. However, there are times when these routine visits are not enough. Certain issues and life changes require a visit to the gynecologist between regular checkups.While waiting until one’s next annual checkup may be okay, scheduling a visit between these appointments…
The Importance of Getting a Pap Smear
Recommendations regarding pap smear have changed over the years. Just like mammograms and other women’s health screenings, the specific recommendations for each woman differ. However, these cervical cancer screenings are still important in women’s health care services, as they help detect cervical cancer early when a specialist can most easily treat it.
About cervical cancer
Cervical cancer starts in the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. The main culprit behind this type of cancer is the human papillomavirus, HPV. HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease that most sexually active women will get at some point, and certain strains are more likely to cause cervical cancer.
The good news is that cervical cancer develops and progresses extremely slowly. Doctors can more easily treat this cancer if caught early. However, cervical cancer generally produces no symptoms in its early stages, making pap smears an essential part of early detection.
What is a pap smear?
A pap smear is a fairly simple procedure usually performed by a gynecologist, OBGYN, or a woman’s primary care physician. The procedure is done on an outpatient basis and typically involves very little if any, discomfort. The doctor uses a small swab or spatula to remove cells from the cervix gently. These cells are either placed in a vial of liquid or smeared on a microscope slide and sent to a lab for testing.
The woman's healthcare provider will explain every step of the procedure. The doctor will have the woman sit in a special chair with her feet in stirrups during the procedure. In addition, to the pap test, the doctor may perform a pelvic exam. The doctor will likely ask questions about sexual health, such as types of birth control used and unusual symptoms. These appointments are also ideal times to ask the doctor any questions the woman has about reproductive health.
Who should have a pap smear, and when
A woman and her doctor should decide when to start testing and how often to receive a pap smear. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does offer some guidelines:
Women ages 21-29
Women should start having pap tests at 21. If the results are normal, she should continue testing every five years until she is 29.
Women ages 30-65
Women between these ages can consider a couple of options. They can choose to have an HPV test with or without a pap smear every five years if the results are normal. Women can also have a pap test alone every three years, given these results are normal.
Women ages 65+
A woman’s doctor may tell her she does not need pap smears anymore if any of the following apply:
- She has had several years of normal pap smear results
- She has never had cervical precancer or cancer
- She has had her cervix removed
These are just general recommendations. When deciding on health screenings, each woman should discuss her unique circumstances with her doctor.
Preparing for a pap smear
Little preparation is needed for a pap test, but there are things one should avoid and be aware of. To help ensure accurate results, women should avoid intercourse, douching, and using vaginal solutions two days before the test. Though it can be more comfortable for the woman to avoid having the test done during her period, this does not interfere with the results.
After the test
Though the scraping is subtle, there is a chance of light spotting after. Therefore, the patient may wish to wear a sanitary pad. Adverse effects are rare. However, a woman should call her healthcare provider immediately if she experiences bleeding, foul-smelling discharge, fever, chills, or abdominal pain after a pap smear.
It can take a few days to receive the pap smear results. However, abnormal results do not necessarily mean cancer. Many factors can cause results to be abnormal. All an abnormal result means is that there is a need for more testing. In addition, it is important to remember that even if the OBGYN finds precancerous or cancerous cells, they have likely caught them early. Early detection means that only minimally-invasive treatment may be necessary, unlike if the OBGYN detects cancer in later stages.
When was your last pap smear?
The pap test is essential to every woman’s healthcare routine because it catches cervical cancer early and helps save lives. Women should talk to their doctors about their cervical cancer risk and how they can protect themselves. To learn more about pap smears and other vital women’s health screenings, call our team today.
Request an appointment here: https://fresnoobgyn.com or call Camilla L. Marquez, MD at (559) 424-1180 for an appointment in our Fresno office.
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