A pap smear gathers a sampling of cells from the cervix to test them for cervical cancer or abnormalities that might indicate the future development of cervical cancer.
During your annual exam, the doctor uses a small brush or swab to rub against your cervix. The doctor then sends this to a lab for analysis.
Pap smears don’t really hurt. You might feel the pressure or a rub as the cells are gathered, but it’s quick and usually relatively benign. It’s also part of your regular pelvic exam in which you’re on an exam table, naked from the waist down, and your feet in stirrups. You may feel vulnerable, and the process of separating your vaginal walls to view the cervix can be a little uncomfortable and awkward, but not painful.
Negative results mean that no abnormalities were found and that you’re good to go until your next annual exam.
A positive test just means you’ve got cells that are suspicious. This might be due to an inflammation or dysplasia when cells have changed a bit in their appearance. Often dysplasia corrects itself, so you may be asked to come back in several months for a repeat test. However, if you continue to have positive tests, you might need to have a biopsy.
Family Care of Fairview recommends that women have their first test at 21 years old and benefit from having 1 every 3 years until age 65. Some women older than 30 opt to be tested just once every 5 years, as long as they are monitored for HPV — a sexually-transmitted disease linked to cervical cancer. Some women with a specific health history may be tested more often:
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