Pap smears are a part of annual exams at the gynecologists and play a key role in the early detection of cervical cancer. The pap smear is a swab of the cervical tissue; testing looks for abnormalities or irregularities in the tissue. Pap smears on their own are not comprehensive STD testing, and if you’re sexually active or have unprotected sex, you may want to consider more thorough testing. Some gynecologists typically perform STD testing alongside a pap test, but you should be sure to ask if you would like additional tests.
The Pap smear takes a small sample of cervical cells using a swab during a typical gynecological exam. The cells are checked for abnormal cell growth, allowing you to detect and begin treating cervical cancers quite early, according to WebMD. Cell abnormalities can reflect potential cervical cancer or the presence of an infection.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the only condition commonly found as a result of Pap smears. A few types of HPV cause the majority of cases of cervical cancer, according to Planned Parenthood. If you have an abnormal Pap smear, further testing may be required to determine if you have HPV or if the cellular changes have another cause. While the Pap smear looks for cervical changes, a specific HPV test is also available and may be used.
A number of STD tests use cervical swabs, similar to a Pap smear. Your health care provider can easily do these tests at the same time as your Pap test. According to Planned Parenthood, testing for both chlamydia and gonorrhea can be done with a cervical swab. Blood tests are used to check for syphilis, Hepatitis B and cytomegalovirus or CMV.
While Pap testing plays a key role in detecting cervical cancer, how often you should consider pap testing depends on your age and personal situation. According to the Women’s Health website, you should have a pap smear every two years, beginning at age 21. If you have a history of normal pap smears, at age 30 with your doctor’s approval, you can have pap smears only every three years. After age 65, some women can stop having pap tests altogether.
Many women will have an abnormal Pap test at some point in their lives. In some cases, it is a false positive. A new Pap test is done, and you can go on without worry. If further testing is required, your health care provider will recommend a colposcopy to look more closely at the cervix and tissue biopsies to assess the state of the cervix, according to the Women’s Health website.
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