Routine gynecologic care, including your Pap smear is part of staying well. January is cervical health awareness month, an excellent opportunity to increase awareness about screening to prevent cervical cancer and help detect it early, when it’s easier to treat.
Board-certified OB/GYN Kiran Patel, MD, and family medicine physician Leela Patel, MD, take pride in helping girls and women thrive throughout all stages of life. Once you reach the age of 21 it’s recommended that you get routine Pap smears. In this post we discuss the importance of getting routine Pap smears and how this simple screening tool can save your life.
What is a Pap smear?
A Pap smear is a screening test designed to check for cervical cancer. It detects abnormal changes to cervical cells and can catch precancerous changes before they have time to develop into cancer. Women who get regular Pap smears are rarely diagnosed with cervical cancer because a Pap test detects the earliest stage of abnormality.
What does a Pap smear involve?
A Pap test is quick and straightforward. Your provider uses a speculum to see your cervix and uses a scraping device to take samples of your cervical cells. The test is painless and takes about 10 minutes.
Pap smears save lives
Thanks in part to regular Pap smears, cervical cancer deaths have dropped sharply. It’s recommended that you schedule Pap tests every three years if you get a normal result. If you receive an abnormal result your provider will discuss the next steps and how often you should test thereafter.
While the death rate from cervical cancer has decreased, cervical cancer is still a risk. More than 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year and an estimated 4,000 women die of the disease annually. Fortunately, cervical cancer treatment has improved, and getting regular Pap smears significantly lowers the risk of dying of cervical cancer.
Pap smears catch abnormal changes
A Pap smear is a very sensitive test that detects abnormal changes to your cervical cells. These abnormal changes are graded based on the likelihood that they can become cancer in the future.
Serious abnormalities are treated right away by removing the abnormal cells. Detecting abnormal changes reduces the risk that you’ll develop cervical cancer.
Pap smears detect early-stage cervical cancer
Like most cancers, cervical cancer is easier to treat and cure during the early stages. If you develop cervical cancer, getting regular Pap smears means catching it during its earliest stages. During initial stages the cancer is very tiny (viewable under a microscope) and has not spread. Treatment is more successful when implemented during the initial stages.
Abnormal Pap test results
It can be distressing to receive an abnormal Pap test. Try not to panic. Most abnormal Pap smears are caused by something other than cervical cancer, such as an infection. Two types of human papillomavirus (HPV) are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer.
However, most women who have HPV will not develop cervical cancer. The most common abnormal Pap result is due to mild changes in cervical cells. Yeast infections and sexually transmitted infections can cause mild changes to cervical cells.