Pap smear or Papanicolaou test is for the prevention, screening, and early detection of cervical cancer. Abnormal Pap smear result may indicate cervical cancer.
Why should I have a pap smear?
The only way to know about cervical changes is to do a Pap test. A Pap test can find cervical problems early, when they are easier to treat.
How Pap test is done?
Pap test is a procedure to collect cells from cervix and read under microscope.
First cervix is exposed; with help of spatula, cells from ectocervix are scrapped. Then a small brush or a cotton tipped swab is inserted into the opening of cervix and endocervical cells are scraped.
How often should I get tested?
All women should begin cervical cancer testing (screening) at age 21. Women aged 21 to 29, should have a Pap test every 3 years. HPV testing should not be used for screening in this age group (it may be used as a part of follow-up for an abnormal Pap test).
Another option for women 30 to 65 is to get tested every 3 years with just the Pap test.
Women who are at high risk of cervical cancer because of a suppressed immune system (for example from HIV infection, organ transplant, long-term steroid use) or exposed to DES may need to be screened more often.
Women who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) should stop screening unless the hysterectomy was done as a treatment for cervical pre-cancer or cancer. Women who have had a hysterectomy without removal of the cervix (called a supra-cervical hysterectomy) should continue cervical cancer screening accordingly.
Although annual (every year) screening should not be done, women who have abnormal screening results may need to have a follow-up Pap test done in 6 months or a year.
What are risk factors for cervical cancer?
- HPV infection
- Weakened immune system.
- Chlamydia infection.
- Being overweight.
- Long term use of oral contraceptives.
- IUD use.
- Multiple full-term pregnancies.
- Being younger than 17 at first full term pregnancy.
- Low economic status.
- Hormonal therapy.
What cells are read and studied under microscope?
- The part of the cervix closest to the body of the uterus is called the endocervix and is covered with glandular cells.
- The part next to the vagina is the ectocervix and is covered in squamous cells.
- These two cell types meet at a place called the transformation zone. The exact location of the transformation zone changes as you age and if you give birth.
Cells in ectocervix and endocervix are read under microscope.