What to Know About Pap Smear Tests
Pap smears are a routine part of the Well Woman’s Exam or Annual Gynecological Exam.
The Pap smear is a physical exam that is used to detect and diagnose cervical cancer, as well as Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). During the exam, the healthcare provider extracts cervical cells so that they can be examined under a microscope to assess if there are any abnormal or cancerous cells. The cells are extracted by being gently scraped or swabbed from the cervix’s opening, at the lower part of the uterus and top of the vagina.
The Pap smear exam itself may be intimidating for someone who has never had one before. However, it is usually a quick and painless process. During the exam, the patient lies on a medical table and places her feet in stirrups located at the edge of the table. The healthcare provider then gently inserts a device, called a speculum, into the vagina. This holds the vagina open just enough for the provider to examine the vagina and cervix in order to take the cervix cell swab sample. To take the cervix sample, a scraper tool usually made of wood or plastic, or a cervical brush are used. As mentioned, this process is typically painless.
Getting a Pap smear done routinely can help reduce new diagnoses of cervical cancer. This screening test helps to identify precancerous and abnormal cells, so preventative measures can be taken. Routine pap smears therefore also help minimize incidences of death from this type of cancer since the cancer can be caught in its early stages, helping it to be easier to treat.
When should you have a Pap smear done? It is recommended that women begin their first Pap Test at age 21, or earlier if she is sexually active. Women between the ages of 21 and 65 should have pap tests routinely performed. If you are between this age range and have never had a Pap smear done, or have not had one conducted in a few years, it is recommended that you schedule a Pap smear appointment with your gynecologist.