No one looks forward to their routine pap smear, but there’s a very good reason you should have one on a regular basis. This test can save your life!
Even if you’ve had pap smears, which are sometimes called pap tests, before, you may not know exactly for what you are being tested, or how the test is performed. It’s not like you can see what the doctor is doing while you get a pap smear.
When you have a pap smear, Dr. Neyman gathers samples of cells from your cervix, which is located at the bottom of your uterus and opens into your vagina. She’ll use a device called a speculum to open your vagina, so she can easily get to your cervix to gather the cells.
The cell sample is then tested to see if any of the cells are abnormal. Abnormal cell growth on your cervix can be an early indicator of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is a highly treatable disease if it’s found early enough. Abnormal cells are sometimes referred to as precancers. Removing precancers stops cervical cancer from developing more than 95% of the time.
This means that having a routine pap smear can protect you from ever developing cervical cancer. And, although cervical cancer is highly treatable, if it’s not detected, it can be deadly.
Routine isn’t necessarily annually
At one time experts recommended all women have annual pap smears. Now, clinicians recommend annual pap smears only if you have an especially high risk of developing cervical cancer.
The updated recommendations include both pap smears and HPV tests. An HPV test is also performed on a cell sample from your cervix, but it looks for DNA from HPV. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that is usually not dangerous and goes away on its own, but that can lead to cervical cancer.
Current guidelines for pap and HPV tests include:
- Women ages 21-29 should have a pap smear every three years
- Women ages 30-65 should have:
- a pap test every three years, or
- an HPV test every five years, or
- be co-tested and have both an HPV and a pap test every five years
Your particular risk profile, medical history, and circumstances play an important role in Dr. Neyman’s suggested testing schedule.
Even if you’re not sexually active, you probably still need to have routine pap smears or co-tests. There are a few women who don’t necessarily need routine testing, such as women who have had a complete hysterectomy and don’t have a cervix.
It’s critically important to discuss your specific circumstances with Dr. Neyman in order to determine how often you should have a routine pap test. You may need to be tested more often than the general guidelines suggest.
If it’s been awhile since your last pap smear, book an appointment with Dr. Neyman online or by phone to schedule this potentially life-saving test, as well as to determine how often you should be getting tested in the future.