The information we provide on pap smears is divided into two sections. You may jump directly to the section you are interested in by clicking on the title of the section.
What is a Pap Exam?
A Pap exam or Pap test is part of a pelvic exam, which involves checking your sex organs. The Pap test is used to examine tiny samples of your cervix and vagina to check for signs of cancer and infection. Your cervix is the opening from your uterus to your vagina. It is an area where cancer can begin. A pelvic exam and Pap test don't affect whether or not you are a virgin.
Why do I need a Pap Test?
A Pap test is the best way to be sure you don't have cancer in your cervix or vagina. Sometimes a Pap test can find infections. If these problems are caught early they can usually be treated with success.
How often should I have a Pap Test?
Start having Pap tests when you are 18 years old or when you begin having sex. Ask your health care provider how often you should have a Pap test.
How is the Pap Test done?
First, the vagina is opened with a small metal tube called a speculum. Next, with a tiny spatula, swab or brush, samples are taken from your vagina and cervix. Finally the samples are put on a small glass plate called a slide and are sent to the lab for testing.
What will a Pap Test feel like?
A Pap test takes only a few minutes. At first, the test might feel a little strange, but the more you relax, the more comfortable you will be. Stay relaxed by looking at a picture on the wall, asking questions or just daydreaming.
What do the results mean?
The lab tests your samples, then the lab lets your health care provider know the results of your Pap test in a week or two. There are two types of results possible with the test.
- A Normal Result: A normal
result means your cervix and vagina look healthy. Come back for your
next Pap test when your health care provider or nurse tells you to.
(Note that at this clinic you will only be notified if you have an abnormal result.)
- An Abnormal Result: An abnormal result means that the lab saw something unusual in your samples. When this happens, you will be contacted regarding details of the results and recommended follow-up.
How do I stay healthy?
- Use a condom.
This helps protect your cervix and vagina from infection and cancer.
- Have a Pap Test.
Have a Pap Test as often as your health care provider recommends. This way you can catch any problems before they become serious.
- Don't Smoke.
Smoking cigarettes raises the risk of cancer in your cervix, so don't smoke. For help in stopping smoking call 1-800-4-CANCER.
- Ask Questions.
Don't be afraid to ask your health care provider any questions you have about your Pap test. Two questions you may want to consider are, how do you find out the results of my Pap test and how often should I have a Pap test.
When a Pap test is abnormal, what does that mean?
If a Pap test is not normal, it usually does not mean there is cancer. Most of the time an abnormal Pap test means one of two things. First, there may be an infection. Second, there may be abnormal cell changes that could lead to cancer if left untreated.
What if there is an infection?
The clinician may do other tests to find out what type of infection you have. You could have a yeast infection or a sexually transmitted disease like the virus that causes genital warts. Women who have this virus on their cervix need to have special care. The clinician will discuss the recommended treatment based on the type of infection you have. You will need another Pap test in a few months to make sure the problem has gotten better.
What if there seem to be abnormal cell changes?
A colposcopy exam or biopsy test may be done to look at the cells more closely.
A colposcopy is a special exam of your cervix. A specially trained clinician will look at your cervix with a bright light though a magnifying lens. This careful look at your cervix does not hurt and may be all that is needed after an abnormal Pap test.
When is a biopsy performed?
If the clinician sees anything abnormal during the colposcopy, a biopsy will be done at the same time. A tiny bit of the cervix is taken and sent to a lab. During the biopsy, you may feel a little pinch or some mild cramping.
What happens after a biopsy?
Some women will not need treatment, others will require additional treatment. Your clinician will talk to you about what care you may need. The treatment may depend on how many abnormal cells there are and where they are found.
What methods are used to treat abnormal cells of the cervix?
There are four common ways to treat the abnormal cells:
- Cryosurgery: The cells of the cervix are frozen and the abnormal cells fall away. Then healthy cells can grow back.
- Laser: A beam of light is used to take away abnormal cells. This can be done in a clinic while you are asleep or awake.
- Cone Biopsy: A cone-shaped biopsy takes out the abnormal cells. This can be done in the hospital or at a clinic. You may be awake while only the cervix is numb or you may be asleep.
- LEEP: An electrical wire loop is used to take out the abnormal cells. This can be done in a clinic while your cervix is numb.
These treatments can be very helpful. They can protect women from cancer of the cervix. Ask your clinician which treatment would be best for you.
- How can I protect myself from cancer of the cervix?
- Get the follow-up care you need in a timely basis. Don't wait!
- Use condoms every time you have sex to protect yourself from infections and cancer of the cervix.
- Don't smoke cigarettes.
- Eat healthy foods rich in folic acid like oranges and broccoli.
- Have a Pap test once a year or more often if your health care provider recommends it.