While we agree that it’s not comfortable to hoist your legs up in our stirrups to expose your private parts, we can't stress enough how important Pap smears are to your health.
So, in this blog, our team at Beth and Howard Braver, MD, dive into why you should get a Pap smear and what you can expect.
Why Pap smears are important
Pap smears are our most efficient method of detecting cervical cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, affecting nearly 43 million people.
There are many different types of HPV. Some only cause genital warts, while others can lead to cervical cancer.
Every year, around 14,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Over 4,000 will die from it. This statistic is the driving force behind our recommendation for regular Pap smears.
Before the Pap smear, cervical cancer was the leading cause of death in women. Now, we can discover changes in the cervix long before cancer has even had a chance to develop.
We recommend having your first Pap smear by age 21. Then, you have to repeat Paps every three years until you’re 65.
You may need more frequent tests regardless of your age if you’re more at risk. You’re more at risk if you:
- Had cervical cancer before
- Had an abnormal Pap smear
- Have HIV
- Have a weakened immune system
- Are a smoker
We may consider ending your Pap testing if you’ve had a total hysterectomy or are older than 65 and have never had an abnormal test.
What if I’m not sexually active?
Just because you’re not sexually active and not in danger of contracting HPV, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Cervical cancer can spread through other types of sexual contact. You’re also at an increased risk if you:
- Have a weak immune system
- Have contracted chlamydia
- Use birth control long-term
- Have had three or more full-term pregnancies
- Were younger than 20 during your first full-term pregnancy
Not getting enough fruits and vegetables can make you more likely to get cervical cancer. Talk to us if you’re unsure whether you need a Pap smear. We can walk through some of your risk factors and help you decide.
What you can expect
The main goal of a Pap smear is to collect a small sample of cells from your cervix (the lower part of your uterus). It’s a quick procedure we can do during a routine pelvic exam.
You don’t have to do much to prepare — just avoid intercourse, douching, or vaginal medicines before your test. It’s also important to schedule your Pap smear around your period.
We ask you to undress from the waist down, then lie on your back on the exam table with your feet in the stirrups. We carefully insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina. This tool gently holds the walls of your vagina apart, so we can easily see your cervix. You may feel a bit of pressure during this part.
With the speculum in place, we insert a small, soft-bristled brush and a flat spatula to sweep your cervix and collect cells. Other than a brief light scratching, you don’t feel much at all.
After your Pap smear, you can return to your day without restrictions, though some women experience light bleeding for an hour or so. We take your cell samples and send them to a lab, where they’re analyzed for changes that may indicate precancerous conditions.
Understanding the results
Pap smear results come back one of two ways: normal or abnormal. If your test is normal, you have a negative result. That means we didn’t discover any precancerous changes in your cells, and you don’t need any treatment or follow-up testing until you’re due for your next Pap test.
You get a positive result if we find abnormal cells in your cervix. Though they can indicate cancer, unusual cells aren’t always a cause for concern. Positive results (and the steps that follow) rely heavily on what type of cells we find.
In most cases, we order additional testing to better understand what’s behind the abnormal cells.
Do you have more questions about getting a Pap smear? We’d love to talk with you. Call to schedule an appointment at either our Aventura or Hollywood, Florida, office today.