What is a Pap smear?
A Pap smear is a screening test for cervical cancer
. It's a simple test, but a very important one. During a pelvic exam
, your doctor scrapes some cells from your cervix
and puts them on a glass slide. At the lab, a technician looks at the slide under a microscope and searches for abnormal cells. back to top
Why should I have a Pap smear?
A Pap smear tells your health professional if you're at risk for cancer of the cervix
or other precancerous conditions, called cervical dysplasia
. A Pap smear can't tell you if you have cancer. If you have a Pap smear that's not normal, you'll need to have additional tests. back to top
Do I need to do anything special before a Pap smear?
No, you don't need to make any special preparations for a Pap smear. Just remember to schedule the exam for a time of the month when you don't expect to have your period
. Blood from your period interferes with a Pap smear and makes it very hard to read. back to top
How is a Pap smear done?
A Pap smear is done during a pelvic exam
. A speculum
is inserted into your vagina and opened so that your health professional can clearly see your cervix. There are two parts to it. First, a tiny brush is twirled in the opening of the cervix and rubbed on a glass slide. Then a small wooden spatula
is scraped around the entire outside edge of the cervix. This, too, is rubbed on the slide. Your health professional then will send the slide to the lab for examination.
Many girls have a small amount of bleeding after a Pap smear. Don't worry—that's probably normal. Most health professionals' offices have pads in the bathroom for you to use after your exam. Feel free to take one. But if you're worried that the bleeding is not normal, talk to your health professional. back to top
What does a Pap smear feel like?
You probably won't even notice the Pap smear being done. You might feel a little bit of pressure when your cervix is gently scraped. It's also a bit uncomfortable to be in the pelvic exam
position, with your feet up in the stirrups and your legs spread apart. But nothing should hurt during a Pap smear. back to top
What if my Pap smear is abnormal?
If the lab finds abnormal cells on your Pap smear, your health professional will let you know and will make another appointment for you to come in. At this appointment, a test called a colposcopy
will be done to find any abnormal areas on your cervix. Colposcopy is when a doctor looks at your cervix through a magnifying lens.
Here are the steps of the colposcopy test:
- Your health professional will open your vagina with the speculum.
- She or he will apply a mild vinegar solution to your cervix and look at it under a magnifying glass. If you have any abnormal cells, they'll look white. The vinegar solution won't burn or hurt.
- Your health professional then will take a biopsy of the abnormal area. A biopsy could hurt a bit as your health professional removes a small piece of tissue from each abnormal area. She or he then sends the biopsy to the lab. When the lab looks at the tissue from your cervix under the microscope, they can tell if there are any cancerous or precancerous cells present.
If your health professional finds precancerous cells in your cervix, he or she may recommend some simple office treatments (such as cryosurgery
or laser surgery
) to remove these slightly abnormal areas.
Human papilloma virus
(HPV) is an infection that causes genital warts and can cause abnormal cells on the cervix. Even if you have no warts you can see, your Pap smear may show that you have an HPV infection. back to top
How often should I have a Pap smear?
You should have a Pap smear every year at your annual pelvic exam
. If you've had an abnormal Pap smear in the past, your health professional might recommend that you get tested more often. back to top
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