Pap Test: What to Expect
For every young woman, it is crucial to have an annual gynecological checkup. Having your female reproductive system checked every year, whether you are sexually active or not, is essential to your overall health and well-being.
If you are visiting your gynecologist for the first time, then the doctor will be performing a pap smear. Also known as a pap test, it’s a common exam that is included in your routine annual or biannual gynecological checkup.
In today’s article, we will talk about what pap tests are, what you can expect, and what the tests detect.
What Is a Pap Smear?
Quick and painless, a pap smear is performed to screen for cervical cancer. During the exam, the gynecologist will gather cells from the cervix to check if any abnormalities could be a sign of cervical cancer. This is an effective preventative measure to handle the issue before it becomes a more severe problem. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests that women should have their first pap test once they turn 21. There are no risks to getting a pap smear; minimal spotting following the test is common and to be expected.
What to Expect
Schedule your appointment when you are not menstruating. It’s also advisable not to have sexual intercourse or use tampons 36 to 48 hours before your checkup as this can affect the results of the test.
During the checkup, you will need to take off any piece of clothing from the waist down. Don’t worry for you will be given a sheet to cover yourself up. You will have to lay down and put your feet up in the stirrups before your gynecologist use lubrication on a speculum to spread your cervix. A swab will then be used to collect several sample cells from the cervix.
Each patient is different; some may experience minor pain and discomfort such as menstrual cramps, while others don’t feel anything. The pap smear can be completed within a matter of seconds then the sample cells will be sent to the lab for processing and testing. You can expect the results within a few weeks. The doctor doesn’t usually contact you if your results come back normal. On the other hand, if there are any issues, then the doctor might need a follow-up.
What Does It Detect?
A pap test can identify precancerous and abnormal cells. However, if your test shows that you have abnormal cells, it doesn’t mean that you have cancer. Abnormal cells can be the result of a minor inflammation or cell changes. These issues can resolve over time. However, the doctor might advise you to get another pap test done in the immediate future.
If you get another test and it’s still showing abnormal cells, then a colposcopy may be required. During this procedure, your cervix will need to be further examined using a colposcope, which uses a bright light and a bigger lens. If the cells still don’t look right, then the doctor may do a biopsy for further testing.
There are four classifications for an abnormal pap smear:
- ASC-US (Atypical Squamous Cells of Undetermined Significance) – the cervical cells appear to be abnormal but are not malignant
- LSIL (Low-grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion) – the cells are classified as ASC-US, but the return to normal after several months
- HSIL (High-grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion) – there is severe abnormality on the cells, but they are not cancerous; this diagnosis still requires immediate treatment
- ASC-H (Atypical Squamous Cells) – there is a presence of abnormal cells, and the HSIL cannot be eliminated
Based on your pap smear results, the doctor can determine what the next steps should be taken.
How Often Should You Do a Pap Test?
Women between the ages of 21 and 30 are advised to get this test done every three years. By the time you reach 30, you have the option of taking an HPV test included with the pap smear. If the HPV test and pap smear both come back with good results, then you can do the test in five years. If you don’t want to take an HPV test, then a pap smear should be done every three years. Women 65 and older can discontinue getting pap smears only after their doctor recommends it.
Take Charge of Your Body
As a woman, you have the responsibility to stay informed and take the steps required to ensure that your health and well-being are protected.