A visit to the gynecologist for a Pap smear may not be the most fun thing in the world, but it is something that can save your life. During a Pap smear, your doctor takes a sample of cells from your cervix, which is located at the end of the uterus. He then tests the cells, looking for abnormalities.
Getting a Pap Smear
A Pap smear usually only takes a few minutes. The doctor or other clinician uses a brush or wood scraper to collect cells from your cervix. She then places the cells on a slide and sends them to a laboratory, where they are examined. In some cases, you will not hear back from your doctor unless an abnormality is found on the cells. You may have to undergo more extensive testing, including biopsy, if there is a problem.
Some strains of HPV, or human papillomavirus, can cause warts on the genital area while others do not have any symptoms. Another strain can cause cervical cancer. A Pap smear will detect some types of HPV as well as abnormal cells that may eventually turn into cervical cancer. If the mutated cells are found soon enough, a woman can be treated before the cancer has a chance to develop. The only way to detect abnormalities early enough to prevent cancer is through a Pap smear.
Occurrence of HPV
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20 million Americans currently have some type of HPV infection and about 50 per cent of sexually active people will contract the disease at some point in their lives. A person can have HPV for years without knowing it or can contract it several years after exposure to the virus. The CDC states that 12,000 women will get cervical cancer from HPV yearly in the United States.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that all women begin to get regular Pap smears once they turn 21. You should get a Pap smear at least once every two years until you turn 30. You may be able to get the test only once every three years in your 30s if you have three consecutive tests that are normal. Women should still get Pap tests after menopause, unless they are over 65 and have had only normal test results for 10 years.
HPV is spread sexually. One way to prevent it is to not have sex or to have sex with only one partner. In some cases, a woman may be able to be vaccinated against HPV. As of 2010, two vaccines are available for women. The CDC recommends that women get the vaccines between the ages of 11 and 26. The vaccines are not effective against all forms of HPV, so even if a woman gets vaccinated, she should still undergo regular Pap smears.
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