A Pap smear, also called a Pap test, is an important part of a comprehensive well-woman exam. Why is it so important? A Pap smear is a screening test for abnormal cells, which can be a sign of cervical cancer or a sign of precancerous cells that may lead to cervical cancer.
Early cervical cancer produces few or no symptoms. The only way to detect cervical cancer in the early stages is to have regular Pap smears. Regular Pap screenings can also detect precancerous cells, which we at the Center for Women’s Health of Wichita can treat so that you never develop cervical cancer.
You should start getting a Pap smear starting at age 21, or within three years of becoming sexually active. Early sexual activity and numerous sexual partners can increase your risk of developing HPV (human papillomavirus), which is a sexually transmitted infection that plays a role in causing cervical cancer.
What is a Pap smear?
If you’ve had a Pap smear, you know it can be slightly awkward or uncomfortable but quick and painless. During a Pap smear, you lie on the examination table with your feet in stirrups. Our founder, Sharon Breit, MD, or another member of our medical staff inserts a speculum into your vagina, then uses a swab to collect cells from your cervix.
We then send the sample to a laboratory to be analyzed. You should not schedule a Pap smear while you’re menstruating because the blood can interfere with the accuracy of the test. You should also refrain from sexual intercourse or using tampons before your test.
If your test is negative, or normal, that means that no cancerous or precancerous cells were present. A negative Pap smear means that you don’t need another one for three years. But we advise you on the best screening schedule for your health needs.
What does an abnormal Pap smear mean?
An abnormal Pap smear is not a cause for alarm. First, it means is that you may need further testing to determine why the Pap is abnormal. It may be cancer, but it also may be one of many other treatable conditions.
About 10% of all Pap smears result in an abnormal finding, but most are not cancer. In many cases, an abnormal Pap means indicates HPV, which is a common sexually transmitted infection that may lead to cervical cancer. Further tests, depending on the type of abnormal cells detected, may include:
Another Pap smear
We typically recommend another Pap smear or HPV test in about six to 12 months if the cell changes are minor.
A colposcopy is a procedure where the cervix is magnified so we can take a closer look at the abnormal cells. During a colposcopy, we may take a biopsy.
If we determine the abnormal cells need a closer evaluation, we take a tissue sample, also called a biopsy, to make a more definitive diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.
To make an appointment for a Pap smear and well-woman exam, call us at the Center for Women’s Health of Wichita, or make an appointment using our online booking tool.