A medical personnel holding a medium speculum.
What is a Pap Smear? A Pap smear is a procedure to screen for cervical cancer in women who are over the age of 21. The procedure involves collecting cells from your cervix, the lower, narrow end of your uterus. Pap smear is used to screen for cervical cancer.
Why is Pap Smear Important? A Pap smear gives you a greater chance at a cure if abnormal or cervical cancerous cells are detected early. A Pap smear can also detect changes in your cervical cells that suggest cervical cancer may develop in the future. Detecting these abnormal cells early with a Pap smear is your first step in halting the possible development of cervical cancer.
The Pap smear is usually done in conjunction with a pelvic exam. In women older than age 25, the Pap test may be combined with a test for human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer. In some cases, the HPV test may be done instead of a Pap smear.
What is the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV is the most common STI. There were about 43 million HPV infections in 2018, many among people in their late teens and early 20s. There are many different types of HPV. Some types can cause health problems, including genital warts and cancers.
How Serious is having the HPV infection? Most HPV infections go away by themselves within 2 years. However, some HPV infections can last longer and can cause some cancers. HPV infections can cause cancers of the: Cervix, vagina, and vulva.
How often Should Women Screen? Women healthcare providers generally recommend repeating Pap testing every three years for women ages 21 to 65. Women age 25 and older can consider Pap testing every five years if the Pap smear is combined with testing for HPV. If you have certain risk factors, your provider may recommend more-frequent Pap smears, regardless of your age.
What are the risk factors for Cervical Cancer?
A diagnosis of cervical cancer or a Pap smear that showed precancerous cells
A history of smoking
Weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy or chronic corticosteroid use
Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth
When should I stop having a Pap smear and/or HPV test?
After a total hysterectomy. This a a surgical removal of the uterus including the cervix. If your hysterectomy was performed for a noncancerous condition, your provider may recommend to discontinue routine Pap smears. But if your hysterectomy was for a precancerous or cancerous condition of the cervix, your doctor may recommend continuing routine Pap testing, in which, vaginal cells are screened.
Older age. Your provider may recommend stopping routine Pap testing at age 65 if the previous tests for cervical cancer have been negative.