Pap smear (patient information)
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It is a screening test for cervical cancer.
How is the Pap smear done?
You will lie on a table and place your feet in stirrups. The health care provider will insert an instrument (called a speculum) into the vagina and open it slightly to see inside the vaginal canal. Cells are gently scraped from the cervix area, and sent to a lab for examination.
Who needs Pap smear?
The Pap smear is a screening test for cervical cancer. Most cervical cancers can be detected early if women has routine Pap smears and pelvic examinations.
Screening should start at age 21. After the first test:
- Woman should have a Pap smear ever 2 years to check for cervical cancer.
- If you are over age 30 or your Pap smears have been negative for 3 times in a row, your doctor may tell you that you only need a Pap smear every 3 years.
- If you or your sexual partner have other new partners, then you should have a Pap smear every 2 years.
- After age 65-70, most women can stop having Pap smears as long as they have had three negative tests within the past 10 years.
- If you have a new sexual partner after age 65, you should begin having Pap smear screening again.
You may not need to have a Pap smear if you have had a total hysterectomy (uterus and cervix removed) and do not have a history of cervical dysplasia (abnormal cells), cervical cancer, or other pelvic cancer.
How to prepare for Pap smear?
Tell your health care provider if you:
Avoid the following for 24 hours before the test:
Avoid scheduling your Pap smear while you have your period (are menstruating), because it may affect the accuracy of the Pap smear. If you are having abnormal bleeding, your doctor may still recommend you have the test done.
Empty your bladder just before the test.
What do I experience during the procedure?
A Pap smear may cause some discomfort, similar to menstrual cramps. You may also feel some pressure during the exam.
You may bleed a little bit after the test.
Where to find centers that perform Pap smear?
What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?
The Pap smear test is not 100% accurate. Cervical cancer may be missed in a small number of cases. Fortunately, cervical cancer develops very slowly in most women and follow-up Pap smears should identify worrisome changes in time for treatment.
A normal (negative) value means there are no abnormal cells present.
Note: Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
Abnormal results are grouped as follows:
- ASCUS or AGUS (atypical cells of uncertain significance): These changes may be due to HPV infection, but may also mean there are precancerous changes.
- LSIL (low-grade dysplasia) or HSIL (high-grade dysplasia): This means precancerous changes are likely to be present; the risk of cervical cancer is greater with HSIL.
- Carcinoma in situ (CIS): This usually means the abnormal changes are likely to progress to cancer.
- Atypical squamous cells (ASC–H): This means abnormal changes have been found and may be HSIL.
- Atypical glandular cells (AGC): Cell changes are seen that suggest precancer of the upper part of the cervical canal or inside the uterus.
When a Pap smear shows abnormal changes, further testing or follow-up is needed. The next step depends on the results of the Pap smear, your previous history of Pap smears, and risk factors you may have for cervical cancer.
This may include:
- Colposcopy-directed biopsy
- An HPV test to check for the presence of the HPV virus types most likely to cause cancer
For minor cell changes, doctors usually recommend having a repeat Pap smear in 3-6 months.