What is a Pap Test and Who Should Get One?

The question you may have is what is a pap test and who should get one? A pap test also known as a pap smear is a test that checks for cancerous and precancerous cells in the cervix within the female body. This test is a simple yet very effective screening tool used by doctors to check for abnormal cells and abnormal cell changes that may occur in the cervix.


Who Should Get One?

Every woman under the age of 65 should get a pap test done every couple of years depending on age and other factors. Women between the ages of 21-29 should get one done every 3 years. Women ages 30-64 should get one done every 5 years however they should also get the HPV test (Human Papilloma Virus) done at the same time.  If the HPV test will not be performed then the pap should be done every 3 years.  Women over the age of 65 who have tested with normal pap results 3 times in a row and with no history of abnormal pap tests in the past 10 years may not need to be tested anymore however its best to get the green light from their doctor beforehand. Finally, women who have had a hysterectomy and/or do not have a cervix AND no history of cervical cancer or abnormal pap tests do need to get tested. There are some exceptions to the 3-5 year “rules”. If a woman has any of the following histories then she will need to have them done more often:

  • Cervical cancer
  • HIV-Positive
  • Weakened immune system due to steroid use, organ transplantation or chemotherapy
  • Her mother was exposed to the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant. This was a drug that was administered to pregnant women during the years 1940-1971 because it was erroneously believed that it was a drug that would help prevent pregnancy losses, issues and complications. This drug was found to cause a rare vaginal tumor in women who were exposed to it in utero.

How Is the Pap Test Done?

The pap test is typically done during the pelvic exam given on a routine OBGYN visit or you can schedule to have one done by making an appointment specifically for this with your OBGYN doctor.  The woman will lie down on the examination table and the doctor will insert a speculum (an instrument used to open and help examine the cervix) and will then use a small stick or brush to swab the interior and collect cell samples from the cervix.  The test itself is not painful but can be a bit uncomfortable.  Some women experience a bit of spotting after the test but it is no cause for alarm. These cells are then deposited onto a lab slide and sent to a laboratory for testing.

The Pap Results and What They Mean

The turnaround time to obtain the results is anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.  If the test results show some abnormal growth of cells, your doctor will alert you and schedule follow up testing.  Keep in mind that pap tests may show “bad” results for reasons other than cancer. Its best to prepare for the test before hand to lessen the chance of this occurring.  For 2-3 days before the test do not douche, use tampons, suppositories, vaginal creams, vaginal deodorants, powders or sprays.  Also avoid having sex.  There are a myriad of reasons for abnormal results so it’s best not to be alarmed but go for follow-up tests to make the sure results are correct. There may have been the result of a “false positive” which mean that the woman was told that she had abnormal cells present when she actually did not have any and all is well.  There is also the opposite situation where the woman was told she had a “false negative” when she was told that she had normal cells but there was an issue with the cells that was not properly observed.  This in turn delays the discovery of unhealthy cells and delays the treatment of such.  This is why regular pap smear tests are important to catch any such indiscrepancies.

Preventative Measures: How Can You Reduce the Chances of Getting Cervical Cancer

There are several ways a woman can reduce the odds of getting the cancer.  For starters, pap smear tests should be done regularly. It is also beneficial to be monogamous and try to have the least amount of sexual partners as the risk increases with each additional partner.  Additionally, it is very important to use condoms because HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that can be obtained orally, vaginally or anally. In males, HPV shows as visible warts whereas in the female body HPV is a disease that can exist symptom free and stay hidden which is dangerous. The pap test is one way to determine its existence.  If the woman is under the age of 26, she can get the HPV vaccine which helps immunize the body from HPV however condoms should still be used as there are many other venereal diseases that need be avoided.

NewLife Wellness Center and Women’s Health

New Life is comprised of a team of dedicated healthcare professionals committed to providing you with healthcare that is comprehensive, up-to-date and integrative in its approach to gynecological and obstetrical services. Visit any one of our convenient locations located at 128 Mott Street in NYC, 634 59th Street in Brooklyn NY or our new location which will have its grand opening in 2015 at 6703 3rd Ave Brooklyn, NY.