Pap Smear: A Short Procedure That Saves Lives

Pap smear, Pap smear test, Pap test… whatever you call it, it usually makes women cringe momentarily. We’ll give it to you straight—it’s not a fun procedure, and for some it can be a bit painful, so we totally understand the knee jerk reaction! But in the spirit of giving it to you straight, we’ll also tell you that this short procedure could very well end up saving your life!

Pap smears are used to screen for abnormalities in the cervix. This test is a very important part of preventative health care for women. About 10,000 women are diagnosed each year with cervical cancer, and over 3,000 die from this disease each year.  If abnormal cells are detected and monitored early there is a much higher success rate for treatment.

Women between the ages of 21-65 years old are generally advised to get tested every two years, but that can vary depending on what your doctor recommends. Some factors that can influence your doctor to recommend more frequent Pap smears, regardless of age, include the following:

  • A previous Pap smear that showed precancerous cells
  • Weakened immune system due to organ transplant, corticosteroid use or chemotherapy
  • Sexual activity/history
  • HIV infection

You may have read that women over 65 and women without a cervix, who have had three consecutive normal Pap smears and negative for HPV, do not need Pap smears any longer.  While this may be true, you should still schedule your annual exams for your breast exam and pelvic exam yearly.

A Pap test lasts only a few minutes and is done right in your doctor’s office. Here’s what you can expect when going through this procedure:

Your doctor will schedule your Pap smear to be done between 10 – 20 days after the start of menstruation. A sample of cells will be collected from both inside and outside the cervix. This is done by inserting a speculum into the vagina, which allows your doctor to view the cervix and genital area. A cervical brush is inserted into the speculum to collect the cell samples. Samples are then placed on a glass slide for evaluation. Most women say that a Pap smear does not hurt, although it does feel a little awkward.

Of course, when you come to the Miami Center of Excellence for Obstetrics & Gynecology, your doctor will go over the procedure with you, answer your questions and talk you through any fears you have.

Once your Pap smear is complete, the cells are sent to a lab for interpretation and will come back with one of the following results:

  1. Satisfactory
  2. Within normal limits
  3. Abnormality detected / recommend follow up care

If your results come back with the third option, don’t worry, this does not mean you have cancer! According to the American Cancer Society, cervical pre-cancers are much more common than true, invasive cancers. And just because a woman has been exposed to HPV, the main cause of cervical cancer, it does not mean that she will get cancer.

If there is need for follow up care the next step is usually a colposcopy, which is a procedure performed by your doctor to examine the tissues of the cervix, vagina and vulva. Your doctor may also take a biopsy to help make a conclusive diagnosis.

Are you due for a Pap smear and have been pushing it off? If so the time to schedule is now. Pick up the phone and make an appointment; this short procedure could make all the difference in the world to your health!