Pap Smear Q & A

A Pap smear is a vital screening your doctor performs to check for cervical cancer. During a Pap smear, your doctor collects cells from your cervix, or opening to your uterus, with a swab. A lab then tests the cells to see if they are cancerous or precancerous. Schedule an appointment for a Pap smear today by calling Annandale Primary Care in Annandale, Virginia, or use the online booking form.

Should I get a Pap smear?

From the age of 21, all women should get a Pap smear every three years. Women who have had an abnormal result from a Pap test may need to be tested more often. The same goes for women with an increased risk of infection or cancer, compromised immune system, or who are HIV-positive.

During a Pap smear, you may also be tested for the human papillomavirus (HPV). Some types of HPV are sexually transmitted and can lead to cervical cancer.

What is a Pap smear like?

Pap smears are very routine and quick. You lie on your back and place your feet in stirrups. The doctor opens your vaginal walls with an instrument to gain access to your cervix, then scrapes a sample of cells with a swab. You might feel a bit of discomfort, but the test is over quickly. The doctor then sends the sample to a testing lab.

You should avoid douches or spermicides the day before your Pap test, as well as sexual intercourse. Women under 24 weeks of pregnancy can safely get a Pap smear.

Pap tests are highly accurate and very effective at reducing cervical cancer rates and mortality by 80%. The doctor can use the same specimen to test for HPV, of which certain strains are sexually transmitted and can cause cervical cancer.

A normal Pap smear result means there were no abnormal cells found. If you receive an abnormal result, it doesn’t automatically mean that you have cancer. It means that abnormal cells have been found within a range from atypia to carcinoma in situ. Your doctor may want to perform a more detailed cervical exam, such as a tissue biopsy or colposcopy, which uses light to view the cervical cells more easily.

I’m monogamous, so do I need a Pap smear?

Regardless of sexual activity or number of partners, every woman should have a Pap smear at least every three years. Cancerous cells can develop at any time, and the types of the HPV virus that can lead to cervical cancer may be dormant for many years but then suddenly become active.

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Undiagnosed patients can unknowingly transmit the disease to others. Early diagnosis can help to prevent or stop an outbreak.