What You Should Know About Pap Smear

What is the Pap Smear test?

Pap smear is a screening tool for cervical cancer. The test checks for any abnormal cells in the cervix that are cancerous or potentially become cancerous. A PAP smear also can detect certain infections or inflammation. HPV testing can be done together with Pap smear to look for any sign of HPV infection, as HPV is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer. Picking up cervical cancer at an early stage, helps to increase the cure rate.

Who should have a Pap smear test?

All women who are sexually active should do Pap smear test, regardless of age or existing familial medical problems.

How often should a Pap smear test be repeated?

Women who are 21 years old and above, should repeat the PAP smear test every 3 years. For those who are above 30 years old, Pap smear should be repeated every 3 years with the HPV test. Women who are 65 and above can stop doing the PAP smear test if they have adequate prior screenings with normal results and are not at high risk for cervical cancer.

When do I need to do a Pap smear test more frequently?

Certain people with certain factors may require more frequent screening or screening past age of 65. Those who have a higher risk required more frequent screening:

  1. Having HIV or being immunocompromised from another condition or treatment like cancer that undergo chemotherapy
  2. Been exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) while in the mother’s womb. This exposure will increase the risk of cervical cancer
  3. Been treated for cervical cancer

How to prepare for the Pap smear test?

To ensure an accurate result from the PAP smear test, the patient is required to:

  • Avoid sexual intercourse, using vaginal medicines or spermicidal foams/cream/jelly for two days before having Pap smear. This is to prevent the washing away of any abnormal cells.
  • Please do not schedule Pap smear test during menstrual period 

What to expect during a Pap smear?

This test will only take a few minutes to get the sample.

You will be asked to undress from the waist down and lie on your back on the examination table with your knees bent.

Your doctor will gently insert an instrument called a speculum into vagina. This helps the doctor to visualize the cervix better. Then, your doctor will use a brush or spatula to collect the sample from the cervix. The samples will be sent to the lab in a design solution or fixed onto a glass slide.

What to avoid after a Pap smear?

After the PAP smear test, you can continue your daily activity without any restriction.  Some people will experience some spotting after the test.

How long can I get the result and what does the result mean?

Usually, the lab requires 3-5 working days to run the test and provide the report.

The result could be: 

  1. Normal: No sign of disease, all cells are normal
  2. Unclear: The lab can’t determine whether the cell is normal or abnormal. Usually, your doctor will ask you to come back for another PAP smear immediately or after 6 months 
  3. Abnormal: The cell looks different from a normal cell and can be pre-cancerous or cancerous cell

If the result comes back abnormal, your doctor will proceed with colposcopy to confirm the diagnosis of cervical cancer. 

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