What Is a Pap Smear and Why Would I Need One?

What Is a Pap Smear and Why Would I Need One?

Like most cancers, cervical cancer has a better cure rate when it’s caught early. And that’s where the Pap smear, also known as the Pap test, comes in.

Dr. Venkata Vallury here at Redwood Family Health Center in McKinney and Farmers Branch, Texas, performs Pap smears regularly as part of our well women’s annual exams. If you’re new to this test, we want you to feel comfortable and prepared when you come in for your first one. Here’s a closer look at what to expect from a Pap smear.

The Pap smear demystified

A Greek native and later a professor at Cornell University, George Papanicolaou discovered that he could detect the difference between malignant and normal cervical cells after smearing them on a microscope slide, thus the name Pap smear.

Before this discovery, cervical cancer was the number one cause of death in women of childbearing age. 

Today, the Pap smear is a routine part of most women’s annual exams and is the primary reason cervical cancer cases are caught early and treated successfully.

What to expect during your Pap smear

Pap smears aren’t painful, but they can be a bit uncomfortable, so it’s best to fully understand what to expect.

How to get ready for your Pap smear

For the most accurate results, schedule your Pap smear on a day when you won’t be menstruating. It’s also a good idea to refrain from having sex, using spermicides, and/or douching for about 24 hours prior to your Pap smear appointment.

Dr. Vallury needs to access your cervix to perform the Pap smear, so you’ll need to relax your body. For some women, it helps to take a few deep, slow breaths and consciously relax their bodies during the test.

The Pap smear

When you come to Redwood Family Health Center for your Pap smear, we do everything we can to make sure you’re comfortable. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to ask them; nothing is too silly or minor, and our staff of professionals always respect your privacy and dignity.

Next, you remove your clothes from the waist down and wear an oversized paper gown to keep you covered. Once you’re ready, you lie down on your back and place your feet in two stirrups for support. You slide all the way down to the end of the table so your bottom is at the edge, and your legs can fall wide to either side.

Dr. Vallury gently inserts a slender instrument called a speculum into your vagina and widens it to keep the walls of your vagina open. Through the center of the speculum, he inserts a long, narrow spatula-type tool or brush that can reach your cervix — the opening of your uterus.

He carefully swipes the spatula against the tissue to collect some sample cells, withdraws the speculum, and the test is over. 

Some women experience mild cramping and light bleeding after the Pap smear, but most have no side effects whatsoever. 

We send your sample to a lab for analysis and let you know when the results are ready.

Your Pap smear results

Most Pap smear results are normal, meaning no abnormal cells were detected. 

However, if your Pap smear results are abnormal, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean you have cancer. In many cases, abnormal cells are merely anomalies, although they may also indicate a precancerous condition. Either is good news, as early detection of these abnormalities is the best way to treat cancer completely. 

Dr. Vallury may recommend further testing, or he may simply recommend a wait-and-see approach and increase the frequency of your Pap smears in the coming months and years.

How to know when you need a Pap smear

Most women should have their first Pap smear around the age of 21 and have them regularly until they are 65 years old. If your results are normal, you only need to have a Pap smear repeated every three years. 

Dr. Vallury may also recommend testing for the human papillomavirus  (HPV), which is a virus that can cause cervical cancer. This test can be conducted independently or at the same time as your Pap smear. The HPV test alone and the combination HPV/Pap test can be done every five years

If you’ve never had a Pap smear and you’re 21 or older, consider scheduling an appointment at Redwood Family Health Center for a well woman exam. It’s the best way to make sure you’re healthy and to detect the first signs of cervical cancer. Call us today or book your visit online

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