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What is a Pap test?

A Pap test, often referred to as a Pap smear, is a way for your physician to examine cells collected from your cervix, or your vagina. A Pap test is a vital component of a woman’s healthcare regimen. If you are over the age of 21, it is recommended that you have a Pap test every three years. If you’ve had a hysterectomy that involved the removal of your uterus due to reasons other than cancer, you no longer need Pap tests.

The test is typically done during a pelvic exam. Your doctor will use a device to widen your vagina so both your cervix and upper-vagina can be examined. Next, a plastic “broom” device will be used to collect cells from the cervix. Those cells are sent to a lab for testing. The test isn’t painful, but it can cause some discomfort.

Why it's done

The test is typically used to detect cancerous cells, precancerous cells, infections and inflammation. The cells collected can also be used to test for human papillomavirus.

Risks

A Pap smear is an effective way to screen for cervical cancer. However, there are factors that can distort the results:

  • Insufficient amount of cells collected
  • A few abnormal cells
  • Inflammatory cells obscuring irregular cells

Treatment options

While there is no major preparation involved with a Pap test, you should try to avoid intercourse, douching products, vaginal medicines, or anything that can obscure abnormal cells. In addition, it’s best to avoid having a Pap test during your menstrual period.

What to expect after treatment

After your Pap test, the results will be sent to a lab. Check with your doctor about when you can expect your results. If the results come back with any abnormalities, your doctor will contact you to come in for further testing.

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