All You Need to Know About Pap Smears and Why They Matter for Women's Health
There are multiple health concerns that affect women exclusively. However, many of them can go undiagnosed due to a lack of knowledge or fear of getting tested. One of these conditions is cervical cancer, a type of cancer that occurs in the cervix. It can be identified in its early stages, or even before it develops, through a test called Pap smear. Keep reading to learn more about what Pap smears are, why they are vital for women, and where to find an experienced primary care physician in Grapevine, TX.
What Are Pap Smears?
A Pap Smear, also known as a Pap test, is a screening procedure for cervical cancer in women. It determines if any precancerous or cancerous cells are present on the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that leads to the vagina.
During a Pap test, the doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina and gently scrape a little sample of cells from your cervix with a small brush. The cells are then sent for testing in a laboratory. While the procedure may be slightly uncomfortable, you should typically not experience long-term pain.
If done along with a human papillomavirus (HPV) test, it can also help to identify whether you have it and which type. HPV is a virus that causes abnormal cervical cells and increases the risk of cervical cancer.
Who Needs a Pap Smear?
Virtually every woman needs a Pap smear. Undergoing a Pap smear every few years is an integral part of women's health, as it can save your life.
Pap smears can show the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells. If a Pap smear test reveals cervical cancer in its early stages, the chances of successful treatment are very high. Removing these cells prevents cancer over 95% of the time.
When to Have a Pap Smear
Doctors generally recommend beginning Pap smears at age 21 and should be a regular procedure until age 65. Some women may be at a higher risk for cancer or other infections and might need more frequent tests:
- HIV-positive women.
- Women with a weakened immune system result from a prior organ transplant or chemotherapy treatment.
- Women with a previous medical history of precancerous cells or cervical cancer.
- Women whose mothers were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant.
It is also recommended to have HPV tests for women 30 and older, though HPV is common with younger women as well.
How Often Should You Do a Pap Smear?
The frequency at which you should get these tests depends on factors like your age and risk level.
Under 21 years old – None needed
21 - 29 years old – Every three years
30 - 65 years old – A pap test every three years, an HPV test every five years, or both tests every five years
Over 65 years old – Ask your doctor whether you still need these tests
These recommendations apply only to women who have a cervix. Women who have undergone a hysterectomy and have no prior history of cervical cancer do not need Pap smears. Still, talk to your doctor for professional advice.
Preparing for the Pap Smear
To ensure your pap smear is effective, you should follow these recommendations:
- Avoid sexual intercourse, douching, spermicidal foams, creams, or vaginal medicines two days before your Pap smear.
- If possible, avoid scheduling a pap smear during your menstrual period, as the flow might alter the test results.
- Do not use tampons at least 24 hours before your test.
- Inform your doctor if you have had an abnormal Pap test before, if you are taking any medications, or if you think you might be pregnant.
Pap smears can be slightly uncomfortable, but the procedure is quick and typically painless.
During a Pap smear, you will lie on your back and place your feet in stirrups (footrests). Your doctor will slowly insert a speculum inside your vagina to keep the vaginal walls open and allow access to the cervix. Your doctor will scrape a small sample of cells from the cervix wall using a special stick or soft brush. These are then sent to a laboratory for analysis. Based on the normal or abnormal results, your doctor will inform you of the next course of action.
It can take from one to three weeks to get your results.
Primary Care Physician in Grapevine, TX | Mid Cities Direct Primary Care
Pap smears are an essential part of women's health. Many cervical cancer cases can be avoided when detected on time. Our medical team at Mid Cities Direct Primary Care understands the importance of having access to a health care professional who can provide the necessary health information, education, and sensitive care you need. We strive to offer the highest quality primary care for all our patients and their families. Contact us to schedule an appointment , or call (817) 904-4822 today!