Every woman knows that she should have regular pap smears. Here’s what the pap test really is—and why it is so important. During a pap test, your healthcare provider collects cells from cervix. These cells are examined for abnormalities that may indicate pre-cancer, cancer, infection or inflammation.

How are the cells collected?
Your doctoruses an instrument called a speculum to widen the vigina. Then, she gently swabs the surface of your cervix, and palces the collected cells onto a microscope slide for examination at a lab. This is why it’s also called the pap smear.

Who performs the smear test?
Physicians (especially gynecologist), physicians assistants, nurse practinioners and nurse midwives typically perform the test, usually in a doctor’s office clinic or hospital.

Why do I need a pap test?
The pap test is a critical portion of your healthcare routine. The abnormalities that pap test detect may lead to cancer. When detected early, your doctor can address such abnormalities and head off cancer. “nearly all deaths from cervival cancer can be prevented with routine screening”. Tewa Onasanya

How often do I need a pap test?
Not so long ago, every woman was encouraged to have at least one pap test per year beginning at the age 18. In 2009, however, the guideline changed a bit, and the following is recommended:
Women should have their first pap test by age 21. Women ages 21 to 30 should be screened every two years. Women with certain risk factors –such as HIV, previous cervical abnormalities or cancer- – require more frequent screening. Women over age 65 who’ve had no abnormal pap tests in the last 10 years may, with a doctor’s permission, stop having pap test altogether. Women who’ve had a hysterectomy do not need pap tests unless the surgery was done as treatment for a cancerous (or precancerous) condition.

How do I prepare for a pap test?
A shower in the morning or night after your pap smear is adequate, advises Dr. Matilde Parente, a female pathologist who’s read thousands of pap smear. Do not use vaginal washes, foams, gels, douches or other chemicals before your appointment. Refrain from having sex for one or two days before your test, and schedule the pap for when you are not having active menstrual bleeding.

What result does a pap test provide?
Your result will be reported as “normal” (“negative”) or “abnormal” (“positive”)

What if my pap cell results are abnormal?
Abnormal cells rarely become cancerous. Your doctor may perform another pap test to compare to the original. Often, abnormal cells in the cervix go away without treatment. Your doctor may do follow up testing (a colposcopy) to examine your cervix and vagina further. If the colposcopy finds abnormalities, the doctor may take a biopsy of the area for examination. From there, she can determine the chance of those cells becoming cancerous and whether further treatment is needed.

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