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Learn More About Pap Smears

By: Dr. Elizabeth Graul

Pap smears are an often-dreaded part of a woman’s health regimen. Most women find paps are not as uncomfortable as they fear if someone is really good at doing them. Paps provide a way to screen for cervical cancer or monitor a patient after treatment for a pre-cancerous change of the cervix.

90% of cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a sexually-transmitted virus and the most common STD in the United States. Over 50% of the US population carries some form of the virus and most of them have no symptoms. Women usually learn they have the virus when it shows up on a pap smear. Men or women can rarely develop genital warts. The best way to prevent cervical cancer, if you are sexually active, is the HPV vaccine.

The best way to identify precancerous changes on the cervix is with a pap smear. Current recommendations are to begin pap smears at 21 years old and then every 2-3 years until you are 30. If all your pap smears are normal, a pap smear and HPV test every 5 years are recommended.

If your pap smear is abnormal, it does not mean you have cancer. It means there are changes in the cells of the cervix that need to be evaluated further. The most common evaluation is called colposcopy, an office procedure that allows your doctor to view your cervix under magnification to better identify abnormal areas. Small biopsies are usually taken and treatment is based on the biopsy results. If treatment is needed, pap smears every 6-12 months for a few years are recommended to verify a return to normal tissue, and no recurrence is seen.

Although having an abnormal pap smear can be scary and cause anxiety, it doesn’t mean you have cancer. Your doctor just needs to evaluate your cervix more thoroughly. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and express your concerns. This is your body and you deserve to understand your unique situation.

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.