While the thought of your next pap smear may not spark much enthusiasm, cervical screenings are essential to female health and cancer prevention. During a pap smear, a sample of cervical cells is obtained and then sent to the lab to be analyzed for precancers, which are changes in the cell that may indicate the development of cancer. Typically, an HPV (Human Papillomavirus) test is done at the same time to detect the presence of the virus, which is known to cause cervical cancer. If you are putting off your next screening, we are here to help you learn more about the process and why it is so important to your health.
What to Expect
Although slightly uncomfortable, Pap-HPV tests are quick and easy. Your provider will first use a plastic or metal instrument known as a speculum to examine the vagina for abnormalities. Next, he or she will take a small brush to collect cells and mucus from the cervix to send to the lab.
It will take some time for pap smear results to come back from the lab. If your results are abnormal, this does not necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. Typically, results from cervical screenings indicate whether or not cancer will develop in the future. If your results show precancerous changes in the cervical cells, your provider will recommend a treatment option to prevent cervical cancer from occurring.
If an HPV test comes back positive, that may mean you have a type of the virus that is at high risk for cervical cancer. Again, it may not mean that you have cancer at the moment, but illness can develop within 1-2 years if not treated.
Cervical cancer is highly preventable with regular screenings. Cervical cancer takes many years to develop, meaning annual screenings are not necessary. Here are some recommended timelines based on age:
- 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
However, you may need may need more frequent screenings if you:
- Have a history of cervical cancer
- Are HIV positive
- Have a weakened immune system
Make sure to speak to your doctor about a screening cadence that is right for you. Additionally, here are other important steps to take toward prevention:
- HPV Vaccination (typically received around 11 or 12 years old)
- Safe Sex Practices – HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, and has a lower risk of infection with the use of condoms, and similar contraceptives
- Lifestyle Choices – Avoiding smoking, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle keeps your immune system strong against infection
Consulting your OBGYN
If you have questions or concerns about Pap smears, HPV testing, or any other aspect of your reproductive health, do not hesitate to reach out. Your provider is your most reliable source of information and guidance. They are here to support you and offer expertise specific to your needs. Schedule your consultation today to learn more.