Why You Need A Pap Smear & What Do Your Results Mean?
All women must undergo regular Pap smears for the vast majority of life. A Pap smear involves taking a sample swab from the cervix that can be tested for cervical cancer, as well as your future risk for cervical cancer. The earlier you are able to identify abnormal cells associated with cancer, the greater your chance for recovery.
Pap smears are usually conducted at your annual pelvic exam. The Pap smear is often combined with a test for human papillomavirus (HPP), a common STD that can lead to cervical cancer in some women.
When Should You Get Your First Pap Smear?
According to The American Cancer Society (ACS), you should undergo your first Pap smear at 21-years old. After your first Pap smear your doctor will help you decide how often you should return. The general guideline for women between 21 and 29-years old recommends getting a Pap smear once every three years. If you are 30-years or older you only need to get a Pap smear once every three to five years.
Cervical cancer is slow developing, which is why most medical organizations agree allowing 3-years between Pap smear exams is fine. Although certain risk factors may increase your need for more frequent exams. These risks include:
- The identification of precancerous cells, or cancerous cells
- Diethylstillbestrol (DES) exposure prior to birth
- HIV positive
- Weakened immunity caused by chemotherapy, regular corticosteroid use, or organ transplant.
How To Prepare For Your Pap Smear
Two days prior to your Pap smear avoid the following:
- Sexual intercourse
- The use of any lubrications, vaginal medications, creams, jellies, etc. All of which can wash away or confuse abnormal cells and mess up your results.
Try and schedule your Pap smear when are not on your menstrual cycle. It is possible to do a Pap smear at this time, but it is not recommended.
What To Expect At Your Exam Appointment
Your first Pap smear, heck even your 10th Pap smear, can create a few butterflies in your tummy. But for the most part, women leave their appointment realizing how easy the procedure really is. You will lay flat on a medical table with your feet hoisted into metal stirrups. From here your vagina is held open using a speculum, this may sound awkward but it should cause no pain, and at worst a slight pressure. The actual Pap smear is administered using a long soft-bristled collection brush known as a spatula. It only takes a few seconds to get a good swab, and most women hardly feel a thing.
A Pap smear truly is a very easy process. The moment your Pap smear is complete you will feel normal and be able to go about your day-to-day activities.
Your results will be sent off to a laboratory for microscopic analyzing, and searched for any sign of cancerous or precancerous cells. It generally takes a few days or as much as a week to hear back about your results.
What Do Your Pap Smear Results Mean?
A false-negative test means that a mistake was generated, messing with the final results of the sample cell collection. This can occur due to an inadequate number of cells, a collection of abnormal cells, or if inflammatory cells are in the way of abnormal cells.
If your results turn out negative this means no abnormal cells are present in your cervix.
If results show positive this means abnormal or unusual cells were detected from your Pap smear results.
There are different types of abnormal cells, and not all of them are related to cancer. Squamous Cell Cancer or adenocarcinoma cells are so abnormal they are almost always related to cancer. On the other hand, squamous intraepithelial lessons, atypical glandular cells, and atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance all require further testing in order to determine if cancerous cells are present.
When Do You No Longer Need Regular Pap Smears?
There are 2 groups identified as safe to stop undergoing regular Pap smears.
The first being those that have had a full hysterectomy that was not related to cancer. A hysterectomy entitles surgically removing your entire uterus, cervix included. In the instance your hysterectomy was related to cancer, Pap smears may still be advised.
Secondly, according to ACS guidelines women over 65-years old who have had negative Pap smears for the last 3 years and have showed no abnormalities for over 10-years are generally okay to stop receiving regular exams.
Always talk with your doctor before making the decision to cease all Pap smears, as this decision should be made on a personalized basis regarding you and your medical history.
The Importance Of Pap Smears
Pap smears can help you identify cervical cancer before it ever even starts, and when it comes to cancer prevention is key. Enjoy the benefits of preventative health care by visiting Urgent Medical Center today for your regular Pap smear.