If you’re like most women, chances are you’ve heard about the Pap test or Pap smear. While getting this exam probably isn’t at the top of your wish list, this important screening could save your life.
Every year, about 13,000 American women get diagnosed with cervical cancer, and nearly one-third die from this terrible disease. Cervical cancer doesn’t cause symptoms until the later stages, but a simple screening with a Pap test can mean the difference between a treatable diagnosis and something more serious.
The board-certified providers at Southern Crescent Women’s HealthCare in Fayetteville, Newnan, and Stockbridge, Georgia, offer Pap tests as part of our comprehensive line of gynecological care. If you’re not familiar with a Pap test, keep reading to learn what’s involved and the ways it can help protect your health.
What is a Pap test?
Some women are nervous about getting a Pap test. But the truth is, this important health screening is a fast and simple screening involving a quick swab of your cervix.
Your cervix is the lower, narrow end of your uterus at the top of your vagina. Your provider asks you to lie on the exam table and uses a tool called a speculum to keep your vagina open. Then your provider uses a swab to remove a sample of cells from your cervix.
The sample is analyzed at a laboratory to look for abnormal changes. The Pap test looks for human papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer, but it can also detect other STDs and conditions, such as cervical dysplasia.
Who should get a Pap test?
Pap tests are a key preventive screening for all women ages 21-65. But that doesn’t mean every woman needs a Pap test each year.
The right schedule for your Pap test depends on your personal history and the results of any previous screenings. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists makes the following recommendations:
- Women ages 21-29: Pap test every 3 years
- Women ages 30-65: Pap test every 3-5 years
- Women age 66 and older: Pap test only required with a history of abnormal results
There are exceptions to these guidelines. For example, if your Pap test returns abnormal results, your Southern Crescent Women’s HealthCare provider may recommend testing again sooner. You may also need more frequent screenings if you have a history of cervical cancer or are immunocompromised.
Is a Pap test painful?
Many patients who’ve never had a Pap smear worry the test will be painful. The good news is that while gynecological exams might be a little uncomfortable, they don’t normally cause pain.
Keep in mind that it typically takes less than a minute for your provider to place the speculum and take the cell sample. During a Pap test, you might feel a quick scratch or tiny pinch, but it’s over very fast.
Staying relaxed and practicing deep breathing can help you feel more comfortable and minimize any unpleasant sensations. You should also be sure to empty your bladder before your exam, since many times uncomfortable feelings are the result of pressure in your pelvic area.
To find out more about Pap tests or to learn if it’s time for your screening, call 770-991-2200 or book an appointment online with Southern Crescent Women’s HealthCare today.