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The Importance of Regular Pap Smears

Cervical cancer is the third-most common cancer among women worldwide. The single best way to prevent it is with regular screenings, in the form of a Pap smear.

At Capital Women’s Care in Silver Spring and Laurel, Maryland, you receive regular Pap smears as part of your gynecology care to identify any abnormal cells on your cervix, the lower part of your uterus. Abnormal cells have the potential to turn cancerous if not detected and treated.

Take a moment to learn why regular pelvic exams and Pap smears are so essential to your health.

What is a Pap smear?

A Pap smear, sometimes called a Pap test, takes place during a pelvic exam at your well-woman visit. The doctor simply swabs your cervix with a brush or special stick to collect a sample of cells. These cells are then sent to a lab for evaluation.

During the Pap smear, you feel light pressure, but no pain.

What does a Pap smear reveal?

Your cervix is the part of your uterus that opens into your vagina. Abnormalities in the cells of the cervix indicate that you’re at risk for cancer of the cervix.

These abnormalities of the cervical cells are usually due to infection with HPV, or human papillomavirus. HPV is an incredibly common sexually transmitted disease and has dozens of strains. Certain strains cause precancerous cell changes that are identified with a Pap smear.

Who should receive a Pap smear?

Pap smears should begin at age 21 and continue through menopause. Women older than 65 who have had a series of normal Pap smears may choose to opt out of the test.

After age 21, most women need a Pap smear every 2-3 years. After age 30, a woman may continue with a Pap smear every three years or opt for an HPV test every five years. Some women may choose co-testing and receive a Pap smear and HPV test every five years. We can help you understand which screening option is best for you.

Some women do need more frequent Pap smears, such as in cases of HIV infection or if you have a weakened immune system due to chemotherapy or an organ transplant. A history of abnormal Pap smears may also indicate a need for more frequent screenings.

My Pap test was abnormal; do I have cancer?

An abnormal Pap smear is not a diagnosis of cancer. In many cases, an unclear or abnormal Pap result shows up due to an infection or inflammation, hormonal changes, smoking, or recent sexual intercourse.

Often, we ask that you come in for a repeat test in a few months to see if the abnormalities have cleared up on their own. If not, you may need a colposcopy, which provides a more direct view of your cervical tissue and gives the doctors a chance to biopsy any suspicious tissue.

A colposcopy involves the doctors inserting a thin tube with an affixed camera into your vagina. This gives us a better view of the suspicious cells so we can better understand the nature of the cellular irregularities and recommend the appropriate treatment.

Don’t think twice about getting regular Pap smears. They protect your health and are a single, easy way to catch the earliest signs of a deadly cancer. Call the Capital Women’s Care office in Silver Spring or Laurel, Maryland, or request an appointment online to schedule yours.

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