A Pap smear, also called a Pap test, is a screening procedure for cervical cancer. It tests for the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells on your cervix. The cervix is the opening of the uterus.
During the routine procedure, cells from your cervix are gently scraped away and examined for abnormal growth. The procedure is done at your doctor’s office. It may be mildly uncomfortable, but doesn’t usually cause any long-term pain.
The American Cancer Society recommendTrusted Source that screening should start at age 25. Some women may be at increased risk for cancer or infection. You may need more frequent tests if:
If you’re over 25 and have not had abnormal Pap tests, ask your doctor about having one every five years if the test is combined with a human papillomavirus (HPV) screening. Current guidelinesTrusted Source recommend that people between the ages of 25 and 65 should have an HPV test every five years.
Women over the age of 65 with a history of normal Pap smear results may be able to stop having the test in the future.
You should still get regular Pap smears based on your age, regardless of your sexual activity status. That’s because the HPV virus can be dormant for years and then suddenly become active.
These recommendations only apply to women who have a cervix. Women who have had a hysterectomy with removal of the cervix and no history of cervical cancer do not need screening.
Recommendations vary and should be individualized for women with compromised immune systems or a history of precancerous, or cancerous lesions.
You can schedule a Pap smear with your annual gynecological examination or request a separate appointment with your gynecologist. Pap smears are covered by most insurance plans, though you may be required to pay a co-pay.
If you’ll be menstruating on the day of your Pap smear, your doctor may want to reschedule the test, since results could be less accurate.
Try to avoid having sexual intercourse, douching, or using spermicidal products the day before your test because these may interfere with your results.
Arthroscopic shoulder surgery is recommended for shoulder dislocations, shoulder tendonitis, certain rotator cuff problems, soft tissue (muscle) repairs, frozen shoulder, and the repair of torn cartilage or ligaments.
In most cases, it’s safe to have a Pap smear in the first 24 weeks of a pregnancy. After that, the test may be more painful. You should also wait until 12 weeks after giving birth to increase the accuracy of your results.
Since Pap smears go more smoothly if your body is relaxed, it’s important to stay calm and take deep breaths during the procedure.
Pap smears can be a bit uncomfortable, but the test is very quick.
During the procedure, you’ll lie on your back on an examination table with your legs spread and your feet resting in supports called stirrups.
Your doctor will slowly insert a device called a speculum into your vagina. This device keeps the vaginal walls open and provides access to the cervix.
Your doctor will scrape a small sample of cells from your cervix. There are a few ways your doctor can take this sample:
Most women feel a slight push and irritation during the brief scraping.
The sample of cells from your cervix will be preserved and sent to a lab to be tested for the presence of abnormal cells.
After the test, you might feel mild discomfort from the scraping or a bit of cramping. You could also experience very light vaginal bleeding immediately following the test. Tell your doctor if discomfort or bleeding continues after the day of the test.
There are two possible results from a Pap smear: normal or abnormal.
If your results are normal, that means that no abnormal cells were identified. Normal results are sometimes also referred to as negative. If your results are normal, you probably won’t need a Pap smear for another three years.
If the test results are abnormal, this doesn’t mean you have cancer. It simply means that there are abnormal cells on your cervix, some of which could be precancerous. There are several levels of abnormal cells:
Milder abnormal cells are more common than severe abnormalities.
Depending on what the test results show, your doctor may recommend:
During a colposcopy exam, your doctor will use light and magnification to see vaginal and cervical tissues more clearly. In some cases, they may also take a sample of your cervical tissue in a procedure called a biopsy.