PAP SMEAR (Cervical Screening)
The Pap smear (cervical screening) checks the health of your cervix. It is a procedure used to collect cells from the cervix so that they can be looked at under the microscope to find cancer and pre-cancer.
It’s not a test for cancer, it’s a test to help prevent cancer
A Pap smear involves collecting cells from your cervix — the lower, narrow end of your uterus that’s at the top of your vagina.
Why it's important
Cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer. It checks the health of your cervix. It’s not a test for cancer, it’s a test to help prevent cancer.
A Pap smear may check for abnormal cell changes in your cervix. If abnormal cell changes are left untreated they could turn into cancer. A Pap smear may also check for HPV (Human papillomavirus) which can lead to cell changes in your cervix and cancer.
Who should have a Pap smear?
In general, doctors recommend beginning Pap testing at age 21. Doctors generally recommend repeating Pap testing every three years for women ages 21 to 65.
How about HPV Screening?
You can also prevent cervical cancer with regular screening tests like the HPV DNA test (HPV test). Recently, screening for HPV DNA has been used in the primary screening of cervical cancers alone for women over age 30. Screening for HPV DNA has a higher sensitivity for detecting cancers compared to the Pap smear, a higher negative predictive value, and, therefore, the opportunity to increase the screening interval. The test can be done by a doctor or through a self-collection kit.
What happens at your appointment?
A Pap smear is performed in your doctor’s office and takes only a few minutes. During the procedure a small sample of cells is taken from your cervix for testing.
Your doctor will gently insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum holds the walls of your vagina apart so that your doctor can easily see your cervix. Inserting the speculum may cause a sensation of pressure in your pelvic area.
Then your doctor will take samples of your cervical cells using a soft brush and a flat scraping device called a spatula. This usually doesn’t hurt.
A Pap smear can alert your doctor to the presence of suspicious cells that need further testing.
If only normal cervical cells were discovered during your Pap smear, you’re said to have a negative result. You won’t need any further treatment or testing until you’re due for your next Pap smear and pelvic exam.
If abnormal or unusual cells were discovered during your Pap smear, you’re said to have a positive result. A positive result doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. What a positive result means depends on the type of cells discovered in your test.