What is a Pap smear?

A Pap smear is a simple in-office test that involves gathering a sample of cells from your cervix. During your visit, your practitioner inserts a small speculum into your vagina, which opens up your vaginal walls. They gently scrape your uterus and place your sample on a specimen plate, which gets sent to the lab.

How often do I need a Pap test?

Generally, you should start getting regular Pap tests around age 21, or when you become sexually active — whichever comes first. If you’re in excellent overall health and have never had an abnormal Pap, Dr. Ohri often recommends having a Pap smear every three years for women ages 21-65.

In some cases, cervical cancer stems from a viral infection that’s caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). If you have HPV testing alongside your Pap test, you might be able to wait up to five years between Pap smears, as long as you’ve never had an abnormal test.

Why is my Pap smear abnormal?

It can be overwhelming to learn that you had an abnormal Pap test but don’t stress. Dr. Ohri typically suggests having a second Pap smear to compare results. In some cases, abnormal Pap results occur because of atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS).

While these cells are abnormal, they’re not necessarily precancerous. Dr. Ohri might want to reanalyze your sample to check for viruses that promote cancer development, such as HPV. Atypical glandular cells are also abnormal, but you need further testing to see if they’re cancerous.

How do I prepare for a Pap smear?

Even though a Pap smear is a routine test, you need to do a few things to prepare. For instance, avoid having sexual intercourse or douching for two days before your exam. You also need to stop using vaginal medicines, including yeast infection treatments, two days prior.

Otherwise, your test results might not be accurate or can come back abnormal. To ensure Dr. Ohri can collect a thorough sample from your cervix, you should also avoid scheduling a Pap test during your menstrual period.

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