January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. What is the cervix you ask? The cervix is the lower portion of the uterus. The cervix is two inches long, and is shaped like a tubular donut. Its main function is to widen during childbirth to allow for the passage of the baby. However, it also allows for the passage of menstrual fluid from the uterus, and for sperm to travel through to reach the uterus during conception.
The cervix is vulnerable to several health conditions, such as dysplasia, polyps, chronic inflammation, and cancer. Unfortunately, these cervical conditions rarely present symptoms in the early stages; therefore, a regular Pap smear from a gynecologist is vital.
WHAT IS THE PAP SMEAR TEST?
Let’s talk about Pap smears. A Pap smear, or Pap test, is a screening procedure that checks for cervical cancer. Detecting cervical cancer early —with a Pap smear — gives you a much greater chance at a cure.
During a Pap smear, cells are very gently scraped from the opening of the cervix and examined under a microscope for abnormal growth. It may be slightly uncomfortable, but should not cause any long-term pain. A Pap smear test is done at your OB/GYN’s or doctor’s office — visit our North Atlanta OB/GYN clinic today to enjoy superior care to keep you healthy.
WHY DO I NEED THIS TEST?
Getting a regular Pap test can be life-saving. It is recommended to start routine Pap smear tests at age 21. Starting at age 21, women should get Pap smears every 3 years.
The goal of routine Pap smear testing is to diagnose cervical cancer in its early stages or to prevent any precancerous disease from progressing to cervical cancer.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU NEED A PAP SMEAR?
How often a Pap smear is needed is determined by various factors, including your age and risk of cervical cancer. Recommendations vary and should be individualized for each woman. In particular, if you have a compromised immune system, a history of precancerous, or cancerous lesions.
Age and Pap Smear Frequency
- Less than 21 years old — None needed
- 21-29 — Every 3 years
- 30-65 —Pap test and HPV test together every 5 years is preferred; however, a Pap smear alone every 3 years is acceptable.
- 65 and older — You may no longer need a Pap test; talk to your OB/GYN to help determine your needs
WHAT DO MY PAP TEST RESULTS MEAN?
Your test results will either be normal or abnormal. If you get an abnormal Pap test result, this usually does not mean that you have cancer. In fact, it often means a minor cervical concern. Moreover, your test results may not mean you have a problem. Test results may vary depending on your health history, age, and the method used for the Pap test, among other factors. Ask your OB/GYN what your Pap test results mean for you.
Occasionally, a Pap test has a false-positive result. This means you don’t have a cervical problem, even though the test results show you do. Your OB/GYN or healthcare provider can do another Pap test to confirm the initial results. Or they may recommend other tests such as a colposcopy.
What Might Affect My Pap Test Results?
The ideal time to schedule a Pap smear test is 10 to 20 days after the first day of your last period. For the most accurate test results, avoid having sex or using tampons, vaginal creams, deodorant sprays and powders, douches, contraceptive foams, and jellies for 2 days before your exam. While a Pap smear can still be performed, it is recommended not to have the test while you’re menstruating.
WHAT OTHER TESTS MIGHT I HAVE ALONG WITH THIS TEST?
Your OB/GYN will likely administer a pelvic exam along with a Pap test. During the pelvic exam, your OB/GYN will exam the visual and physical female reproductive organs. Depending on your age, and some other factors, your tissue samples collected from the Pap smear can also be tested for the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Infection with some types of HPV may put you at risk for cervical cancer.
Pap smears are screening tests, which means that an abnormal pap smear doesn’t give a diagnosis of precancerous cells or cancerous cells. If you have an abnormal Pap test result, your OB/GYN or healthcare provider will most likely order other tests.
These may include:
- The cervix and vagina are looked at with a microscope called a colposcope, which magnifies any abnormal areas.
- Endocervical curettage. Cells are taken from the cervix’s opening with a spoon-shaped tool and then looked at under a microscope. This may be done during your colposcopy.
- A small tissue sample is taken from the cervix and looked at under a microscope. This also may be done during the colposcopy.
AN HPV SCREENING CAN EASILY BE SCHEDULED AT THE SAME TIME
HPV is a virus that can cause warts and increases the chance of cervical cancer. If you have HPV, you may have an increased risk of cervical cancer. It is recommended to continually get regular Pap smears based on your age, regardless of your sexual activity status. That is because the HPV virus can be dormant for years and then suddenly become active.
We strive to give every patient the utmost care and comfort. Our doctors and nurse practitioners are committed to our patients and the surrounding community. As one of the best obstetrics and gynecology practices, we provide the best possible care by creating trusted and safe environments for women. Visit our North Atlanta OB/GYN clinic today.