Cervical health is essential to one’s overall wellness, making cervical screenings such as Pap smears a vital component of a woman’s healthcare routine. Cervical screenings, particularly Pap smears, are quick, yet informative. The simple test can detect abnormalities such as infection and cancer.
Understanding Cervical Health
The cervix connects the lower part of the uterus to the vagina, and like any other organ, it is susceptible to disease and infection, the most common being HPV (human papillomavirus). HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause abnormalities in cervical cells. Typically, the immune system can fight against the infection and clear any cellular changes. However, more aggressive strains of HPV can persist and cause abnormalities that can lead to cervical cancer. Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.
What to Expect
Pap smears are a quick and relatively painless procedure. During a pap smear, a physician will insert a small brush into the vagina to collect cells and mucus from the cervix, which is then sent to the lab. Under the microscope, the cervical cells are examined for the presence of cancer, or abnormalities that indicate cancer may develop later on. During a Pap smear, your physician will also test for the presence of HPV. Results from a Pap smear typically take a few days to process.
If the laboratory results indicate abnormalities, further testing will need to be performed to get a proper diagnosis.
Importance of Regular Pap Smears
Although you may be vaccinated against HPV, some strains are not protected against, making regular screenings extremely important, and potentially lifesaving. The simple test allows doctors to monitor changes in the cervical cells, allowing preventative measures to be taken before the cancer even has a chance of developing. Approximately 95% of those with detected precancerous changes do not develop cancer with the appropriate treatment.
Scheduling Regular Pap Smears
The cadence for regular screenings depends on your age and risk factors for disease. Typically, screenings are recommended following these guidelines:
- Ages 21-29 should be screened every 3 years
- Ages 29 – 65 should be screened every 5 years
- Ages over 65 can stop screening after two or three consecutive negative results, or if abnormal results have never occurred
Here are some risk factors that may result in more frequent screenings:
- A history of cervical cancer
- HIV positive
- Weakened immune system
It is important to work with your healthcare provider to figure out a screening cadence that is right for you.
Maintaining Your Health
Incorporating regular Pap smears into your healthcare routine is a proactive step towards not only maintaining cervical health but also your overall well-being. Regular screenings can help reduce health anxieties by providing peace of mind which can contribute to positive mental and emotional health. By staying informed, you are helping yourself ensure a healthier, happier, and worry-free future. If you are ready to take charge of your well-being, do not hesitate to schedule a consultation today to learn more about Pap smears, HPV testing, or any other aspect of your reproductive health. Our providers are dedicated to supporting your health journey by providing expertise that is unique to your needs.