What is a Pap Smear?
Pap smear is a specific part of a gynecological exam or pelvic exam where evaluation for cervical cancer is done. During a Pap Smear, your provider take a sample of the cells of the cervix. These cells are sent it to the lab for examination under the microscope to check for abnormal changes. It is a screening test for cervical cancer or precancerous change of the cervix. During this part of the speculum exam, your provider can also take discharges from your cervix or vagina to look for infection(s) in your genital tract.
Pap Smear Myths
- I was in the ER last night and they gave me a Pap Smear.
- I went to the ER 4 times last year and they did 4 Pap Smears on me.
- ER providers rarely do a pap smear. In fact it is safer that ER providers do not perform pap smears.
- Your ER provider did the speculum exam to check for infections of the vagina and/or the cervix.
Why Get Regular Pap Smears
There are many strains of HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). HPV is transmitted through sexual intercourse. These viruses can change normal cervical cells into cells that can become cancerous.
Here are some reasons to get regular Pap smears:
- Younger than 30 years old
- Multiple sexual partners
- Recent abnormal pap smears
- HIV positive
- Taking drugs that decrease your immune system (cancer treatment, steroid)
When and How Often Should I Have a Pap Smear?
It is recommended that women less than 30 years of age have a Pap Smear done once a year.
If you can have a Pap Smear every 3 years if you meet all these criteria:
- Older than 30 years
- In a sexual relationship that is stable and monogamous
- Your Pap Smears, over the past 3 years were normal
Even if you meet all of these criteria and decide to get a Pap Smear every 3 years, it is recommended that you still make an appointment to see your health care provider once a year for other health care maintenance issues (i.e. cholesterol / diabetes screening, breast exam, pelvic exam, immunizations, etc.).
When Can I Stop Getting Pap Smears?
Women older than 70, in a stable sexual relationship, and have 3 consecutive normal Pap Smear, may elect to stop getting yearly pap smear. You still need yearly physical and pelvic exam.