Testing for cervical cancer and for abnormal cell changes that could lead to cancer is done by your doctor with a Pap smear, also called a Pap test. It’s a routine procedure done at your gynecologist’s office in which cells are scraped from your cervix, the opening of your uterus, in order to test them for abnormal growth. The best gynecologist will always explain the entire procedure, so you know what to expect and why it is being done.
The Importance of Pap Smears
The Pap test is done routinely in order to try to detect changes in your cervical cells that could indicate that cancer might develop in the future. Finding abnormalities early can stop the development of cervical cancer. If cervical cancer is found early from the results of a Pap smear, you have a greater chance at prevention or a cure.
How a Pap Smear is Done
After your gynecologist has done a routine pelvic exam, they will take a tiny sample of cells from your cervix using a soft brush or flat scraping device. You may feel some pressure, but it is usually not painful. The procedure typically takes ten minutes or less. The cells are sent to a lab for review.
Pap Smear Results
The results of your Pap smear should be available within a few days. If they are negative, that means that no abnormalities have been detected. Positive results don’t necessarily mean you have cancer.
Slight abnormalities could indicate minor cell changes that could go away on their own, or an inflammation. If this happens, your gynecologist will probably recommend a repeat Pap smear in a few months.
Abnormal Cells After a Repeat Pap Smear
If the slight abnormalities haven’t cleared up after the repeat test, further testing may be recommended. Your gynecologist may do a colposcopy, which involves looking at the cervix under a microscope. A biopsy may also be done, which involves removing a small amount of tissue from the cervix. The results of these tests will determine the doctor’s recommendation for treatment.
How Often Pap Smears Need to Be Done
Each woman is different, and your doctor will discuss with you how often you should have this test. As a general guideline, a Pap smear is typically done every two years starting at age 21. By age 30, if you have had three consecutive normal Pap tests and you don’t have a weakened immune system or health condition, the frequency may be decreased to every three years. You may also be able to decrease the Pap test to every five years if it is done along with a test for Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Talk to your doctor to find out what is right for you.
By the age of 65, if you have always had normal results, you may be able to discontinue having this test. By this age, the risk of cervical cancer is very low. This is an individual decision that should be made between you and your gynecologist.
Why the Pap Test is Repeated So Often
The Pap test has been more successful than any other test in preventing cervical cancer, but it is a test that relies on examination of results by the human eye. For this reason, abnormalities could be missed, so you should have the test as often as recommended.
Pap smears are very important because regular Pap tests can detect cervical cancer early or prevent it altogether. When detected early, this is one of the most treatable forms of cancer. Have a Pap smear done as often as recommended by your doctor and help your doctor to keep you healthy.
If you’d like to see a gynecologist at NSAGO, please contact us at our Wilmette or Glenview locations.