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Pap Smear – What is it?

You probably wondering about Cervical Cancer and why it is important. I know that feeling especially when I had an appointment with my gynecologist, and she asked me if I had a pap smear done. I was buzzed and had to do some research about it and felt why not just blog about this because the information gotten was exciting. So, first of all:

What is a Pap Smear?

Pap stands for “Papanicolaou test,” a screening method that detects pre-cancer and cancer cells of the cervix. Your cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the upper part of the vagina.

Why Do I Need a Pap Test?

Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women and the only preventable cancer in the world. Approximately two out of four women carries HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer. Majority of women with HPV do not develop cervical cancer. If your Pap test detects abnormal cells, you can easily get treatment before they develop into cancer.

How is the Pap Exam Done?

Your doctor inserts a “speculum” into your vagina.  This instrument allows your doctor to see and collect cells from your cervix with a tool similar to a long Q-tip. The collected cells are “smeared” on to a microscope slide and viewed carefully for abnormal cells. The test may be mildly uncomfortable but is not painful.

How Often Do I Need a Pap Test?

All women should have a yearly physical examination. Typically, your doctor will perform a Pap smear at these intervals:

Ages 21-29: every 3 years (provided previous Pap tests have been normal)

Ages 30-65: every 5 years, along with HPV testing

After age 65: not recommended (provided previous Pap tests have been normal)

What is a HPV Test?

A HPV test looks for the human papillomavirus, a virus that can cause cervical cancer.

Your doctor will talk with you about the need for and timing of screenings if you’ve had a hysterectomy (the surgical removal of the womb) or a history that includes HIV, chemotherapy, cancer or abnormal Pap smears, or organ transplants. Still have questions about what to expect during a pap test? Book an appointment today to talk with a Medical doctor.

How Do You Prepare for a Pap Smear

To ensure that your Pap smear is most effective, follow these tips prior to your test:

  • Avoid intercourse, douching, or using any vaginal medicines or spermicidal foams, creams or jellies for two days before having a Pap smear, as these may wash away or obscure abnormal cells.
  • Try not to schedule a Pap smear during your menstrual period. It’s best to avoid this time of your cycle, if possible.

What you can expect

During the Pap smear

Female reproductive system

A Pap smear is performed in your doctor’s office and takes only a few minutes. You may be asked to undress completely or only from the waist down.

You’ll lie down on your back on an exam table with your knees bent. Your heels rest in supports called stirrups.

Your doctor will gently insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum holds the walls of your vagina apart so that your doctor can easily see your cervix. Inserting the speculum may cause a sensation of pressure in your pelvic area.

Then your doctor will take samples of your cervical cells using a soft brush and a flat scraping device called a spatula. This usually doesn’t hurt.

After the Pap smear

After your Pap smear, you can go about your day without restrictions.

Depending on the type of Pap testing you’re undergoing, your doctor transfers the cell sample collected from your cervix into a container holding a special liquid to preserve the sample (liquid-based Pap test) or onto a glass slide (conventional Pap smear).

The samples are transferred to our laboratory where they’re examined under a microscope to look for characteristics in the cells that indicate cancer or a precancerous condition.

The results of the Pap Smear are usually ready within 14 days.


A Pap smear can alert your doctor to the presence of suspicious cells that need further testing.

Normal results

If only normal cervical cells were discovered during your Pap smear, you’re said to have a negative result. You won’t need any further treatment or testing until you’re due for your next Pap smear and pelvic exam.

Abnormal results

If abnormal or unusual cells were discovered during your Pap smear, you’re said to have a positive result. A positive result doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. What a positive result means depends on the type of cells discovered in your test.

Here are some terms your doctor might use and what your next course of action might be:

  • Atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS). Squamous cells are thin and flat and grow on the surface of a healthy cervix. In the case of ASCUS, the Pap smear reveals slightly abnormal squamous cells, but the changes don’t clearly suggest that precancerous cells are present.With the liquid-based test, your doctor can reanalyze the sample to check for the presence of viruses known to promote the development of cancer, such as some types of human papillomavirus (HPV).If no high-risk viruses are present, the abnormal cells found as a result of the test aren’t of great concern. If worrisome viruses are present, you’ll need further testing.
  • Squamous intraepithelial lesion. This term is used to indicate that the cells collected from the Pap smear may be precancerous.If the changes are low grade, it means the size, shape and other characteristics of the cells suggest that if a precancerous lesion is present, it’s likely to be years away from becoming a cancer.If the changes are high grade, there’s a greater chance that the lesion may develop into cancer much sooner. Additional diagnostic testing is necessary.
  • Atypical glandular cells. Glandular cells produce mucus and grow in the opening of your cervix and within your uterus. Atypical glandular cells may appear to be slightly abnormal, but it’s unclear whether they’re cancerous.Further testing is needed to determine the source of the abnormal cells and their significance.
  • Squamous cell cancer or adenocarcinoma cells. This result means the cells collected for the Pap smear appear so abnormal that the pathologist is almost certain a cancer is present.”Squamous cell cancer” refers to cancers arising in the flat surface cells of the vagina or cervix. “Adenocarcinoma” refers to cancers arising in glandular cells. If such cells are found, your doctor will recommend prompt evaluation.

If your Pap smear is abnormal, your doctor may perform a procedure called colposcopy using a special magnifying instrument (colposcope) to examine the tissues of the cervix, vagina and vulva.

Your doctor also may take a tissue sample (biopsy) from any areas that appear abnormal. The tissue sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis and a definitive diagnosis

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