The Pap smear, or Pap test, collects cells from the patient’s cervix. The cells are tested for active cancer cells or abnormalities which suggest cancer may form. After age 21, most women should have a Pap smear done every 3 years, typically as part of a pelvic exam. After age 30, the Pap smear may be combined with testing for the human papillomavirus, or HPV. This is a common sexually transmitted disease that may contribute to cervical cancer in older women. Generally, women over age 65 no longer require Pap testing, nor do those who have had a hysterectomy for reasons other than cancer.
Yes. Patients who have previously had cervical cancer or an abnormal Pap test with precancerous results may be advised to test more often. Those with weakened immune systems, such as through chemotherapy, organ transplant, chronic use of corticosteroids, or HIV may also need extra tests. Patients exposed to the synthetic hormone diethylstilbestrol (DES) before they were born may be particularly susceptible to cervical cancer and should be monitored closely. Fortunately, birth control pills using DES have not been prescribed since 1978.
The test itself poses little risk to the patient. However, the results aren’t always correct. False negative tests do occur when abnormal cells exist but aren’t caught in the Pap smear. This may be due to too few cells overall, or few abnormal cells in the sample. Other cells may confuse results as well. Cervical cancer takes some time to develop, so a false-negative test result will likely be caught during the next Pap smear.
If possible, try not to schedule a Pap smear during your menstrual period. The test can still be performed, with a slightly increased risk of a false-negative result. Also, avoid using vaginal medicine, spermicides, douching, or having sexual intercourse for a few days before the test for best results.
Feel free to email us regarding any scheduling or general questions!