FAQ’s About PAP’s

Posted by GPWHC on 10 September 2018

Do you have questions about Pap smears? We have answers!

Q. At what age do I need to begin getting PAP’s?

Typically health care providers recommend that women have a Pap smear annually beginning at age 21, or once sexually active, whichever comes first, unless she is having issues.

Q. Do I need a PAP if I’m a virgin?

Cervical cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted infection called human Papillomavirus (HPV). If you are a virgin, and never had any type of sexual intercourse, you're unlikely to have HPV. However, there are other risk factors for developing cervical cancer, such as family history of cancer and smoking, so talk to your healthcare provider with any concerns.

Q. How often should I get a PAP?

For women ages 21 - 29 years old (or sexually active before age 21), it’s recommended that you get a Pap test every 3 years. For women 30 – 65 years old, it’s recommended that you get a Pap test and an HPV test once every 5 years. The frequency depends on your health, previous PAP results, and sexual history.

Q. Why is a PAP necessary?

A Pap smear tests for cervical cancer in women, and is usually done at the same time as a pelvic exam. A Pap smear detects changes in your cervical cells that suggest cancer could possibly develop in the future. Detecting abnormal cells early with a Pap smear is your first step in halting the possible development of cervical cancer. Early detection of cervical cancer gives you a greater chance at a cure.

Q. Are PAP’s painful?

Let’s be honest, a PAP may be uncomfortable for some, but should not be painful. Your doctor may use a lubricant, or warm water to help insert the speculum. Having a trusting relationship with your healthcare provider or clinic helps so that you feel at ease during your Pap test.

Q. What can I Expect?

You will be asked to undress from the waist down, and given a sheet to cover your lower body. You will be asked to move your bottom to the end of the examination table, and place your feet in the stirrups. The stirrups keep your legs bent and open. Next, your doctor will shine a bright light on your vagina. The doctor will then use a lubricant or warm water, and insert a speculum. It sounds scary, but the speculum is used to gently push apart the walls of your vagina, allowing the doctor the see your cervix. Speculums come in different sizes, so you can request your healthcare provider use a smaller speculum to be more comfortable. Next, a small soft brush or swab will be inserted to collect sample cells from your cervix. After the sample is collected and the speculum is removed, your doctor will perform an internal exam to make sure your internal organs are healthy. That’s it! The entire exam should take no more than 5-8 minutes!

Q. Do they check for HPV when you get a PAP?

An HPV test is similar to a Pap test and can often be done at the same time as your scheduled Pap.  An HPV test can find high-risk types of HPV that are most commonly found in cervical cancer. The HPV test and Pap test can be performed at the same time by using a small soft brush to collect cells on your cervix.

Q. What does it mean if my PAP is abnormal?

If your Pap test comes back abnormal, it means your doctor found abnormal or unusual cells on your cervix, it doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. Often, the abnormal test result means there have been cell changes caused by the human Papilloma virus (HPV). Depending on the type of abnormal cells, your doctor may need to perform additional tests.

Q. How should I prepare for a PAP test?

It’s recommended that you avoid intercourse, douching and using spermicidal forms or jellies at least two days before having your PAP. These may wash away abnormal cells before the test.

Q. When’s the best time to schedule a PAP?

According to the American Cancer Society, the best time for a Pap test is at least five days prior to the start of your period. It is not recommended to get a Pap smear during your period. This is because menstrual fluid and blood may make it difficult for the pathologist to interpret your results. If you have started your period unexpectedly, or find that you have scheduled your Pap during your period, call your doctor's office; you may be asked to reschedule, or you might be told to keep your appointment.

Q. Do I need a PAP if I’ve had a hysterectomy?

That depends. If you’ve had a partial hysterectomy (the uterus is removed, but the cervix remains), your doctor will probably recommend continued Pap tests. If the uterus and cervix were removed due to cancer or a precancerous condition, a regular Pap test is still recommended. If, however, you have had a total hysterectomy for a noncancerous condition, you can stop having Pap’s.

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