What is a Pap Smear?Maria Bettina
February 27, 2023
A Pap smear (or a pap test) is a screening procedure for cervical cancer for people with vaginas. A pap smear tests for the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells.
The procedure involves the collecting of cells from your cervix.The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus that forms a canal between the uterus and the vagina. The smear can also detect changes in the cervical cells. Pap smears are also combined with a test for HPV.
What is HPV?
- HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical cancer.
- There are many strands of HPV, some more dangerous than others.
- Some strands of the HPV virus can cause warts or increase the chance of cervical cancer.
- HPV type 16, 18 are the primary cause of cervical cancer.
Who needs a pap smear and when do you need to get one?
The recommendation for when to start getting a pap smear varies. Some say 21, others 25.
If you know that you are HIV positive or who have a weakened immune system then you may need to start getting pap smears before 25. Have a conversation with your doctor to see when and if you need to have a pap smear.
How often do you need to get a Pap smear?
It is usually recommended that you should get a pap smear every three years when you are between the ages of 21-65 This should be combined with an HPV test. However, if you are more at risk you may have to get a Pap smear more frequently. Talk to your doctor because recommendations vary based on the individual.
What happens during a Pap smear:
The great thing about Pap smears is that they are super quick, however, they can be slightly uncomfortable. During the procedure you will be lying down and the doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina. A speculum is a medical tool which is used to open your vaginal walls. This enables your doctor to inspect your vagina. Once the speculum is inserted the doctor will scrape for a sample of cells from your cervix. You may feel discomfort or irritation briefly when this occurs. Then the cells are sent to a lab to be tested for the presence of abnormal cells. Afterwards you may experience some light bleeding or cramping. But speak to your doctor if this does not stop.
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