Cervical Cancer Prevention: Pap Smear Guidelines
The Pap smear is a screening test used to detect the signs of cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society estimated that 12,820 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed this year. It was once the most common cause of female cancer deaths in America. Today, that statistic has dropped by half thanks to the use of Pap smears.
What Happens During a Pap Smear?
In the examination room, you will be asked to disrobe for the test. A gown is provided to reduce exposure and make you feel more comfortable. You will lie on the examination table on your back with knees bent. A speculum is inserted into the vagina to hold the walls apart and provide a view of the cervix.
A small brush or spatula is inserted to swab the cervix. While it shouldn’t be painful, this procedure can be uncomfortable due to both the sensation and lack of privacy. It only takes a moment, then the spatula is removed, and the collected cells are spread across a glass slide for examination. Your OB/GYN will tell you when and how you can expect the results to be ready. This process can take a few days or longer.
How Often Should I Get a Pap Smear?
According to the American Cancer Society, every woman should begin having regular Pap smears from age 21 and up. It should be completed at minimum once every three years until age 29, then every five years from age 30 on when done with an HPV test. Women who opt out of an HPV test should have a Pap smear performed every three years.
Once a woman reaches age 65, she may stop having Pap smears if she has regular screenings over the previous decade and showed no sign of cancer. Women who have had complete hysterectomies can also stop having Pap smears unless the removal was done as a pre-cancer treatment. Women with a suppressed immune system should talk to their OB/GYN about a recommended screening schedule.
While prevention is preferred, early detection is the next best thing when it comes to cervical cancer. If you have questions or would like to schedule a Pap smear, contact Women’s Health and Menopause Center for an appointment and increase your chances of staying healthy and cancer-free.