Why is a Pap Smear Performed?
A pap smear has two functions: to test for cervical cancer and to detect the human papillomavirus (HPV), that can lead to cervical cancer. Pap smears are usually administered along with a pelvic exam. Finding abnormal cells early means stopping cervical cancer in its tracks before it can negatively affect your health.
Who Should Get Regular Pap Smears?
It’s recommended that women who are aged 21 to 65 should add a pap smear to their regular healthcare screenings. Guidelines for pap smears include:
Ages 21-29- Receive a Pap smear every three years
Ages 30-65- Receive a Pap smear every three years or get a Pap smear and HPV test together every five years or receive an HPV test every five years
Ages 65 &older- Get a Pap smear if you’ve never been tested or if you haven’t had a Pap smear since age 60
Risk factors indicating you might need more frequent testing include:
- A previous Pap smear detected pre-cancerous cells
- You’ve been exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth
- You have a weakened immune system due to cancer treatments, organ transplant, or regular corticosteroid use
When Can I Stop Getting Pap Smears?
Pap smears are no longer necessary if you’ve undergone a total hysterectomy because the cervix is removed during the procedure. If you had a hysterectomy for reasons such as fibroids or other noncancerous conditions, you won’t need further Pap smears. Additionally, if you’re over age 65, most doctors don’t recommend further Pap smears if your prior tests have always been negative.
Your doctor may want to keep screening you if you had a hysterectomy due to the presence of pre-cancerous or cancerous cervical cells.
What Are the Risks Associated with Pap Smears?
Pap smears are an easy, safe way to detect cervical cancer. The main risk for Pap smears is the chance of receiving a false-negative result. A false-negative means that testing showed no abnormal cells when in fact, abnormal cells were present. Factors causing false-negative results can include:
- Insufficient collection of cells
- Too few abnormal cells
- Blood cells or inflammatory cells obscured abnormal cells
How is a Pap Smear Performed?
Your Pap smear will only take a few minutes in your gynecologist’s exam room. While you’re lying on your back, your gynecologist will insert a special tool called a speculum. This allows for an unobstructed view of the cervix. Your gynecologist will then use a brush and scraping device to collect cervical cells. The sample will then be sent to a lab to determine if abnormal cells are present. Pap smears are not painful. You’ll only feel pressure from the speculum. Your gynecologist will advise you of your results and schedule follow-up exams as needed.
If it’s time for your Pap smear, make an appointment today at Boulevard Medical Healthcare in the Bronx. Our team offers gynecological services in addition to many other healthcare specialties for you and your family.