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Every woman over 21 years of age should get her Pap test done. The Pap smear test needs to be taken every three years whether a person is sexually active or not. It is even more recommended for women who have an increased risk of getting cancer or infection, for example, women who are HIV-positive or have a weakened immune system. Another virus that increases the risk of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Women over the age of 30 who have not yet had any abnormal cell growth should take both HPV and Pap smear tests, preferably every five years. Women over 65 with a history of normal Pap smear test results may stop taking the test altogether.
What to Expect During the Exam
Cervical cancer happens when a woman has abnormal cells growing in her cervix, which is the opening of the uterus. Tumor development can be prevented by detecting the changes in the cells and removing the abnormal cells early.
When you visit a medical practice to take the Pap test, you will be asked to lie down on your back with your knees open, while your feet are supported in the stirrups. The nurse or doctor will then apply lubricant gel to the speculum — an instrument used to make your cervix accessible for sample collection.
Next, the small sample of cells is collected by gently scraping your cervix with a soft brush or medical spatula. This might feel a little uncomfortable, and the medical professional that is performing the test can prescribe any necessary painkillers if you are experiencing any mild cramping. Overall, the test will be done within an hour.
Following the test, you may experience a bit of cramping or slight vaginal bleeding. This is normal; however, if the discomfort persists, contact your doctor immediately.
If your results come back as normal, which means that no abnormal cells have been identified, then you will have to return for a retake of the routine test after three years.
However, if the test results show any abnormalities, additional testing and subsequent treatment may be required. There is no need to panic as having abnormal cells in the cervix does not mean that you have cancer. It simply means that the abnormalities need to be taken care of before they become cancerous. The different results you might get if you have any abnormal cell growth can be mild, moderate and atypia.
Pap tests are very accurate and regular screenings reduce the possibility of cervical cancer by 80%.