A pap smear test is one of the cervical screening tests that can help identify cancerous or precancerous cells on the cervix. Scheduling this routine procedure is essential as it can make treatment easier and quicker, should anything be discovered.
With last year’s shutdown of in-person appointments for routine healthcare, pap tests fell off the radar for many women. Now the situation is pretty much back to normal, but you are probably postponing a visit to the gynecologist, finding various reasons like a large number of patients at the doctor’s office and the lack of appointments. Dont worry about that, a lot of doctors now have a virtual healthcare assistant, who helps with the work organizations and makes life easier for them and for patients. So when you contact your doctor’s practice, you can easily arrange an appointment for this essential lifesaving screening.
Read on to find out more about what a pap test involves, the best time to have it done, and some of the reasons to have the test done regularly.
What Is a Pap Smear and Why Do You Need One?
A pap smear or a pap test is an examination that checks your cervix for abnormal cell growth. Pap tests can help detect precancerous cells in the cervix or detect cervical cancer cells before they reproduce.
Who Should Have a Pap Smear?
The ACS recommends that anyone over 25 years should start cervical cancer screening. However, some women may have an increased risk for HPV infection or cancer. If you have a weak immune system or suffer from HIV, you may need more frequent pap tests.
How often you need a pap smear depends on different factors. For example, any woman between the ages of 21-29 should have a test done every three years, provided the results are normal. Women between the ages of 30 to 65 require a pap smear every three years, or a pap test and HPV test every five years. Those over 65 years old may no longer need a pap test. Always check with your doctor for your personal recommendation.
Certain risk factors like a history of smoking, exposure to DES before birth, HIV infection, and a previous diagnosis of cervical cancer – or a pap test that showed cancerous cells previously – could mean your doctor may recommend frequent testing, regardless of your age.
Who Performs a Pap Smear?
A gynecologist usually performs a pap test. This is a specialist trained to test, diagnose, and treat any illness that could affect a woman’s reproductive organs.
However, in some hospitals and clinics, a primary care physician or a physician assistant can still perform a pap smear. In case you get an abnormal pap test, you’ll be referred to an OB-GYN or a gynecologist for follow-up.
Preparing for a Pap Smear
It’s essential to go for a Pap test when you’re ready as this gives you more accurate results.
Medical experts recommend avoiding sexual intercourse at least two days before your appointment. You should also avoid using any vaginal creams, douches, medications, or powders as they may wash away abnormal cells.
It’s best to set aside an hour for your appointment. If it’s your first visit, your OB-GYN may ask you to arrive 15 minutes earlier to fill out patient forms and have your insurance details taken.
Once you get to your appointment, an assistant or physician will ask you some questions that relate to your reproductive system. He/she may ask:
- If you are pregnant
- If you smoke
- If you are on any medications
- If you have undergone other procedures on your reproductive system
- If you are doing any family planning
- The last time your menstrual cycle started and ended
- Your history of abnormal pap tests
After the questions, your physician or gynecologist will ask you to change into a gown for a cervix and pelvic exam.
After the Pap Smear
You’re allowed to resume your regular activities after the pap test. The results take up to three weeks, however, if you get an abnormal result, your physician may ask you to schedule an appointment for another test. Redoing the test lets your doctor know if further testing is required, as pap tests can sometimes be inaccurate.
A pap smear can help detect abnormal cervical cells that may be precancerous or cancerous. The test has no serious risks and it’s painless, although uncomfortable for some women. Luckily, the procedure only takes a few minutes and you only need to do it once every three years.