While getting a Pap smear probably isn’t at the top of your list of favorite things, this important health screening plays a key role in keeping you healthy and well.
The experienced OB/GYN providers at Southern Crescent Women’s HealthCare are dedicated to providing the best in women’s health care to patients in Fayetteville, Newnan, and Stockbridge, Georgia. As part of our comprehensive line of services, our care team provides health screenings, such as Pap smears.
To help you understand more about Pap smears and how often you should get this important health screening, our team has put together this informative guide.
What is a Pap smear?
Pap smears, also sometimes called Pap tests, are simple tests that include a swab of your cervix and laboratory analysis of the cells collected. The laboratory examines the cells for any abnormalities, including the presence of cervical cancers, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and cervical dysplasia.
About 13,000 women in America are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, and because it doesn’t usually have symptoms until later stages, a Pap smear could save your life. In fact, cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for American women, but regular Pap smears have led to a welcome decline in the number of cases.
How often should I get a Pap smear?
How frequently you need a Pap smear depends on your age and health history. Beginning at age 21, every woman should get a baseline, or preliminary, Pap smear. Based on the results of this first screening and your history, your provider at Southern Crescent Women’s HealthCare will recommend a testing schedule.
Generally speaking, if you’re ages 21-29 and your baseline test is normal, you only need Pap smears every three years. Once you reach age 30, your provider should conduct an HPV (human papillomavirus) test along with your Pap smear. HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer, and its presence may require you to have annual Pap smears or further testing.
If you don’t test positive for HPV, you should continue to have Pap smears every three years until age 65 or until you have a hysterectomy. Keep in mind that every patient is different, and while Southern Crescent Women’s HealthCare follows recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, your health care and screening plan will be customized to meet your unique needs.
What if my Pap smear results are abnormal?
If your Pap smear results are abnormal, this doesn’t automatically mean you have cervical cancer. Of the more than 3 million women who receive abnormal results each year, less than 1% are diagnosed with cervical cancer.
In addition to cervical cancer, other reasons you might receive abnormal Pap smear results include:
- Positive HPV results
- Inflammation or infection of the cervix
- Abnormal but noncancerous cervical growths, such as polyps
- Having sex before your Pap smear
- Using tampons before your Pap smear
- Cervical dysplasia
If you do have abnormal results, your Southern Crescent Women’s HealthCare provider will order additional testing to uncover the reason abnormal cells are present. If you haven’t yet received the HPV vaccine, your provider may recommend getting it if you’re eligible.
To learn more about Pap smears or to schedule one, book an appointment online or over the phone with Southern Crescent Women’s HealthCare today.