Though getting a Pap smear isn’t exactly a fun thing to do, these screenings can help protect your health. Getting a routine Pap smear is so important, in fact, that it can even be life-saving.
At Southern Crescent Women’s HealthCare, our compassionate providers have been providing excellent OB/GYN care to women in Fayetteville, Newnan, and Stockbridge, Georgia, for years. We want you to know more about Pap smears, so you can feel confident in taking your routine test.
Take a moment to read this helpful guide on Pap smears and why they’re so important to your reproductive and overall health.
All about Pap smears
A Pap smear is a health screening in which your provider takes a quick swab of your cervix. The collected cells are then sent to a lab for analysis. The lab looks for any abnormalities in the cells, such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), cervical dysplasia, and cervical cancers.
If you’re between the ages of 21-65, a regular Pap smear should be a part of your preventive screening routine. Regular doesn’t mean every year, though.
Depending on your personal health history and any previous screening results, the timing of your Pap smears can change. At Southern Crescent Women’s HealthCare, we follow the recommendations put out by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
The ACOG’s recommendations for Pap smears are:
- Women ages 21-29: Every three years
- Women ages 30-65: Every 3-5 years
- Women ages 66 and older: Only if there’s a history of abnormal results
These are only guidelines, however, and based on your unique circumstances, you may need a Pap smear more often. If you have abnormal results, for instance, your provider may order another test sooner than what’s listed on the regular schedule.
The life-saving benefits of Pap smears
Your Pap smear includes a screening for the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a common virus with hundreds of different strains. While HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection across the globe, not all strains of HPV are sexually transmitted.
HPV that is sexually transmitted — of which there are about 40 strains — is classified as either low-risk or high-risk HPV. Low-risk HPV usually doesn’t cause symptoms, but it can sometimes trigger genital warts. While genital warts are frustrating, they’re not a life-threatening condition.
High-risk HPV, however, can cause cancer, especially cervical cancer. High-risk HPV strains cause symptoms once the disease enters its later stages. Though cervical cancer is the most common, and every year more than 14,000 American women are diagnosed with it, high-risk HPV strains can also lead to cancers in the vulva, vagina, anus, and throat.
A Pap smear can save your life, because it can uncover HPV before it develops into the latter stages, which is when symptoms start. This can allow you to get treatment as early as possible, when it’s still the most treatable.
Understanding abnormal Pap smears
If your Pap smear results are abnormal, don’t panic. Less than 1% of the 3 million women who have abnormal results are diagnosed with cervical cancer. There are other reasons why the results can come back as abnormal. Some of the reasons can include the following:
- Having an inflamed or infected cervix
- Having benign cervical growths, such as polyps
- Having sex or using tampons before your screening
- Having a sexually transmitted infection
- Having cervical dysplasia or another condition that causes abnormal cells
If you test positive for HPV, you could also get abnormal results. This means you have one of the high-risk strains of HPV, but it doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer.
If you get abnormal results from your Pap smear, your Southern Crescent Women’s HealthCare provider might order more tests to determine the cause. A positive test for HPV might mean your provider will order a follow-up HPV test to see if the infection resolved on its own or if you need treatment.
If you want to schedule a Pap smear, or if you want to learn more about the procedure, call 770-991-2200 or book an appointment online with Southern Crescent Women’s HealthCare today.