January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and as we close out the month we want to take some time to talk about something that’s near and dear to our hearts: women’s health and the importance of pap smears. Although they’re not something most of us look forward to, pap smears play a crucial role in the early detection of cervical cancer and a number of other conditions.
Despite their importance, there’s a lot that patients don’t know about pap smears, how the procedure works, or how frequently they should be getting them. That’s why today we’re taking some time to answer the most frequently asked questions about pap smears!
A pap smear, more formally referred to as a “Papanicolaou test”, is a screening test used to detect cancerous or precancerous changes in a woman’s cervix. The cervix is a critical area in the female body that connects the uterus to the vaginal canal. This tissue experiences rapid cell replacement, so it’s one of many regions in the body that can develop cancer.
During a pap smear, a sample of cells is collected from the cervix and examined under a microscope. Your provider will check for “abnormal cells” along with sexually transmitted infections, if indicated. Abnormal cells can be things like: benign, ruptured cells due to sexual activity or non-threatening infection, pre-cancerous cells that display strange DNA replications, or cancerous cells that have formed and should be addressed. Regardless of whether your results come back normal or abnormal, your doctor will discuss them with you and provide next steps if additional testing is needed!
The answer to this varies based on each patient’s personal sensitivity! Some women find them painful, for others they’re just slightly uncomfortable, and many experience no discomfort at all. If you’re unsure of what to expect or have concerns, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor! THey can give you realistic expectations about what to expect.
Lots of patients try to put off their pap smears because they feel awkward or embarrassed by the procedure, but in reality a pap smear is a quick, easy test that can potentially save your life by helping identify cancer or an STD in its earliest stages when the disease is most treatable. By getting routine pap smears, you can save yourself an abundance of potential suffering down the line – plus, they’re really not bad!
How frequently you should get pap smears, as well as when you should start getting them, can vary based on a number of different factors. People with a family history of cervical cancer or those who are considered “high risk” may require more frequent screening, while women who have no risk factors may only need a pap smear every few years.
In general, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists provides the following guidelines for cervical cancer screening:
- Ages 21-29: a pap smear every 3 years
- Ages 30-65: a pap smear every 3 years, or every 5 years if combined with an HPV test
- Over 65: no pap smear necessary if you do not have a history of cervical cancer and have had 3 negative pap smear results in a row
It’s important to remember that the above recommendations are guidelines. Every case is different, which is why it’s so important to talk to your doctor when trying to determine your unique screening needs. Here at Optimum our doctors are deeply familiar with the personal and family medical history of each patient, and she can work with you to figure out how frequently you need to get pap smears based on your age, history, and risk factors.
Where Can I Get A Pap Smear In Orlando?
Many people think they have to go to an OBGYN for their pap smears, but that’s just not true! Many primary care physicians offer pap smears since they’re so crucial in catching early signs of cervical cancer. At Optimum we provide pap smears (and traditional well women’s visits) to our patients – there’s no copay or out of pocket cost for the office visit or the procedure, patients are simply responsible for the pathologist fee!
Take your health into your own hands and get screened today.