When it comes to the health of the reproductive system and its organs, women tend to visit their gynecologists only if there is a noticeable irregularity or if birth control is needed. However, maintaining the health of the reproductive system requires attention even if there are no obvious signs that something is or is potentially wrong. For women, one of the main methods used to detect the presence of abnormalities or irregularities- specifically cervical cancer- is with a Pap smear, or as it is more formally known, a Pap test.
What are Pap smears (Pap tests)?
Pap smears, or Pap tests, are gynecological procedures that test for signs or potential signs of cancerous and precancerous cells, particularly cervical cancer cells.
Pap smears are almost always performed in the middle of a pelvic exam, as it is efficient to perform the test while the vaginal canal has already been widened with a speculum. During the Pap test, a doctor or nurse practitioner will use a small brush or spatula to lightly scrape off a sample of cervical cells from the opening of the cervix, just before the entrance of the uterus. After the cells have been collected, they are placed in a special solution or a glass slide and set to a lab for analysis.
Why is it important to get regular Pap smears?
It is very important to get regular Pap smears because there is a chance that a Pap test can save your life. Because a Pap smear can test for indications of the existence of precancerous cervical cells, it can prevent cervical cancer from even forming in the first place. And even if a patient has developed cervical cancer, getting regular Pap smears will ensure that the cervical cancer is caught early; cervical cancer is extremely treatable if caught early enough.
When and how often should women get Pap smears?
It has been recommended that females get their first gynecological check-up between the ages of 13 and 15, and at least by the time they are 18 years old, even if they are not sexually active. Although these checkups are mostly to impart gynecological education and awareness on the patient and typically do not include a pelvic exam or Pap smear, either or both may be needed if the patient is experiencing noticeable gynecological problems.
It has been recommended by the American Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that if you have not had a Pap smear by the age of 21, you should get a Pap smear done as soon as you can, whether or not you are or ever have been sexually active, as it is highly crucial that any abnormal issues or changes to your reproductive organs and the surrounding areas be caught and treated early.
After having their first Pap smear, women schedule a gynecological checkup every two years, as long as no abnormalities are detected. If an abnormality is detected, Pap smears may need to be done every six to twelve months, depending on the severity of the abnormality.
When women enter their thirties, they may only need a Pap test every three years instead of every two years. If a 30-year old female patient has had at least three normal Pap smears in a row, her physician may begin to require Pap tests less frequent Pap tests.
Even women who have experienced menopause will still need to get gynecological tests and checkups at least until they are 65 years old; it is typically unnecessary for women over the age of 65 to continue getting Pap smears, as long as they have had a history of normal Pap tests, especially during the ten years prior.
Women who have had a hysterectomy may not need to have regular Pap tests. However, you should not stop getting regular Pap smears unless under the recommendation of a physician, even if you do not have a cervix anymore.
If you’d like to find out more about Pap smears (Pap tests), the procedures involved, or are due for your regular Pap smear, please contact us at 614.882.4343. Same day appointments are available!