Gynecologists perform Pap smears, or Pap tests, to check your cervix, or the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina, for abnormal cells. Cell changes in your cervix may be an early sign of cervical cancer. When these abnormal cells are found before they turn into cancer cells, however, cervical cancer can almost always be prevented. The Pap test is, therefore, an essential tool in cervical cancer prevention.
Getting a Pap test is one of the best things that women of all ages can do to prevent cervical cancer. It’s usually performed as part of a routine pelvic exam and is recommended every three years for women between the ages of 21 and 65. Starting at the age of 30, your doctor at North Texas OB/GYN may recommend that you continue to have a Pap test every three years or begin having a Pap test and an HPV together every five years.
If you have certain risk factors for cervical cancer, your gynecologist may recommend that you have more frequent Pap smears. Having a previous Pap smear that showed precancerous cells, or having a previous diagnosis of cervical cancer, are the main reasons some women should repeat the Pap test more frequently. Your doctor may also advise you to have more frequent Pap smears if:
A Pap test is a quick, relatively painless procedure that's performed easily during routine pelvic exams. As you lie on the exam table, your doctor at North Texas OB/GYN inserts a speculum into your vagina. The instrument is used to open your vagina gently so that the cervix is visible. Using a special stick or brush, your doctor then takes a few cells from the surface and inside of your cervix, which are then placed on a slide and tested in a lab. A Pap smear can be slightly uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t feel painful.
If you’re past the age of 65 and you’ve never had an abnormal Pap test, your doctor may agree that you can stop having Pap tests. Likewise, if you’ve had a total hysterectomy (the surgical removal of the uterus as well as the ovaries) that was performed to treat a noncancerous condition, you may be able to discontinue routine Pap tests. If, however, your hysterectomy was done for a precancerous or cancerous condition, your doctor will probably recommend that you continue getting Pap tests.
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