Also called: Pap Test
A Pap test is a procedure to collect cells from the surface of the cervix and vagina. A piece of cotton, a brush or a small wooden stick is used to gently scrape cells from the cervix and vagina. The cells are viewed under a microscope to find out if they are abnormal. This procedure is also called a Pap smear.
How Often Should You Be Screened?
Every woman’s situation is unique. You should talk with your doctor about when to start screening and how often to be screened.
However, in August 2018, updated screening guidelines were released by the United States Preventive Services Task Force. The updated guidelines are as follows:
- Women ages 21 through 29 should be screened with a Pap test every 3 years
- Women ages 30 through 65 should be screened with any of three tests:
- Every 5 years with high-risk HPV testing alone
- Every 5 years with Pap and high-risk HPV cotesting
- Every 3 years with a Pap test alone
It is important to remember that your doctor does not necessarily think you have cancer if they suggest a screening test. Screening tests are standard, and are given even when you have no cancer symptoms.
If a screening test result is abnormal, you may need to have more tests done to find out if you have cancer. These are called diagnostic tests.
Why a Pap smear (or Pap test) is Important
Regular screening for cervical cancer using the Pap test has decreased the number of new cases of cervical cancer and the number of deaths due to cervical cancer since 1950.
Cervical dysplasia (the abnormal growth of cells on the surface of the cervix) occurs more often in women who are in their 20s and 30s. Death from cervical cancer is rare in women younger than 30 years and in women of any age who have regular screenings with the Pap test.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the major risk factor for cervical cancer.
Although most women with cervical cancer have the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, not all women with an HPV infection will develop cervical cancer. Many different types of HPV can affect the cervix and only some of them cause abnormal cells that may become cancer. Some HPV infections go away without treatment.
HPV infections are spread mainly through sexual contact. Women who become sexually active at a young age and have many sexual partners are at increased risk for HPV infections.
Other risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- Giving birth to many children.
- Smoking cigarettes.
- Having a weakened immune system.
Again, you should talk with your doctor about when to start screening and how often to be screened.