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What to Expect With a Pap Smear
Also known as a pap test, a pap smear is an exam used to screen for cervical cancer. It is used to check for cancerous or precancerous cells in the cervix. Every woman over the age of 21 should get a pap smear at least once every three years. The thought of a pap smear can make even the bravest person a little nervous. This is totally normal, but knowing what to expect from the test can give you a little extra confidence as you go through the test.
About cervical cancer
This is a type of cancer that affects the cervix, which is the opening to the uterus. It happens when cells in the cervix experience abnormal growth and start to invade tissues in other parts of the body. The most common cause of cervical cancer is the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which is transmitted sexually. A less common risk factor for cervical cancer is smoking, with women who smoke being twice as likely to develop the illness.
Pap smears and early detection
Fortunately, cervical cancer takes a very long time to develop and that is where early detection comes in. If a pap smear detects precancerous cells before they become fully cancerous, then a person can actually prevent cervical cancer with a high degree of success. So, what should a person expect from a pap smear?
How to prepare for the test
Women over 21 should get a pap smear at least once every three years. Sexually active women who are younger than 21 should also get pap smears since they have a risk factor for HPV infections. Ideally, a person should get a pap smear along with their annual wellness checkup. To prepare for the test, a person should:
- Avoid sex on the day before the test to avoid erroneous results
- Avoid spermicides or douches one day before the test
- Reschedule the appointment, or at least let their doctor know if they are menstruating
How a pap smear is done
Ideally, a doctor will do a pap smear on a person who is not menstruating or one that is less than 24 weeks pregnant. A new mother should wait for three months before getting a pap smear. The test is an outpatient procedure that can be performed at a doctor's office, and it only takes 10 to 20 minutes. This is the process involved:
- The doctor will ask the patient to lie down on an exam table and place their feet in stirrups
- Once the patient is in position, the doctor will insert a speculum into the vagina
- In order to make the cervix visible and more accessible, the doctor will use the speculum to open the vaginal walls
- The doctor will then take samples from the cervix using a cytobrush or a spatula-and-brush combination
- As the doctor takes the samples, the person will feel slight discomfort that will only last a few moments
- Some people may experience slight bleeding immediately after the test. It should clear up in a day. If it does not, the patient should see their doctor immediately
What to expect after the test
The doctor will preserve the samples and take them for testing. If the results indicate a normal pap smear, then a patient can go another three to five years without a pap smear. If the pap smear comes back mildly abnormal, the doctor will monitor the patient with regular checkups. If the test results show cancerous or precancerous cells, then the doctor will recommend preventive or curative treatment.
When was your last pap smear?
If you have never had a pap smear before, or if it has been a while since your last one, contact us to talk to our doctor and schedule a wellness checkup along with a pap smear.
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