Pap smear sample as seen through a microscope. (Copyright 2010 Nephron)
Pap smear sample as seen through a microscope. (Copyright 2010 Nephron)

What is a Pap test?

The Papanicolau or pap test is a screening test that looks for cancer of the cervix (lowest part of womb). The American Cancer Society estimates that in the year 2020 approximately 13,800 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed and approximately 4,290 women will die from cervical cancer. Thus, it is important to talk to your doctor about obtaining a pap test.

The United States Preventative Task Force recommends Pap tests for women starting age 21. Pap test is a simple, painless in-office procedure usually completed in 15-20 minutes. During the procedure, your doctor will take cells from the cervix to look for cancer causing virus known as Human Papillomavirus or HPV. This is virus is usually transmitted via sex and frequently diagnosed in women ages 35-44 years old.

Your doctor may recommend repeating the Pap test every 3 to 5 years depending on the risks. Risk factors for cervical cancer include having multiple sexual partners, smoking and having weak immune system. Cervical cancer is curable if diagnosed early. The chances of developing cervical cancer can be reduced by regular Pap tests and receiving HPV vaccine.

Women rarely develop symptoms from cervical cancer. Some symptoms may include fatigue, pelvic pain, bleeding and pain during sex. It is important to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing such symptoms.

Pap tests may be stopped once a woman reaches age 65 and older if their previous Pap tests were normal. Pap test may also be stopped for women with total hysterectomy (removal of uterus and cervix), if hysterectomy was performed for non-cancerous reasons such as Fibroids (non-cancer tumor of uterus).

Mayo Clinic
US Preventive Services Task Force

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