Preparing for pap test
In order to avoid an incorrect test result, for two days before your Pap smear, avoid the following:
- Having sex
- Using tampons, vaginal medicines, creams, sprays, or deodorants
You should also not have a Pap smear during or too close to your period, as this can cause inaccurate results. The best time to have a Pap smear is 10 to 20 days after your period starts.
During a Pap test
A Pap test is performed at your doctor’s office and is very short, lasting only a few minutes. You will lie on an exam table with your knees bent. The doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina to hold the walls of the vagina apart. This allows them access to your cervix. Your doctor will use a soft brush and scraping device called a spatula to collect cell samples. This procedure can cause slight discomfort but usually does not hurt.
A Pap smear is not painful. You may experience slight discomfort as the swab brushes the surface of the cervix to collect cells. You may also have some spotting afterward. You can return to your normal activities after a Pap test.
A Pap smear is a very safe and accurate screening test. Our highly trained health professionals will examine the cells under a microscope. The findings are checked before the results are reported to your doctor.
You will learn the results of your Pap smear in one to three weeks. If you have an abnormal result, you may need a repeat test or additional follow-up testing, such as an HPV test. Abnormal results are usually one of the following:
- Atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS). This means that the squamous cells that grow on the surface of a healthy cervix are slightly abnormal. If no high-risk viruses are present, then this result is not worrisome, and no further testing is needed.
- Atypical glandular cells. Glandular cells grow in the opening of the cervix and in the uterus. If they are abnormal, further testing will be needed to determine whether they are cancerous or of concern.
- Squamous intraepithelial lesion. This term means that the cells from your Pap smear may be precancerous. Additional testing will be needed. It is likely years away from becoming cancer if it is considered low grade. High-grade changes may develop into cancer much more quickly.
- Squamous cell cancer or adenocarcinoma cells. This term indicates that cancer is almost certainly present. If this type of cell is identified, your doctor will recommend prompt follow-up.
How to prevent cervical cancer
Cervical cancer is caused by infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), a very common sexually transmitted infection. In the U.S., almost 80 percent of adults carry some form of this virus, though the vast majority do not show symptoms.
The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV infections that are most commonly involved with cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancers. This vaccine is given in a two or three dose schedule depending on how old you are when you start it. It is important to remember that this vaccine prevents new infections but does not treat existing infections.
In addition to getting the vaccine, using condoms during sex, limiting your number of sexual partners, and not smoking will help lower your risk of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is easiest to treat when it is identified early, even during precancerous stages. The best way to prevent cervical cancer is by getting regular Pap tests beginning at age 21. HPV-specific tests can also identify the cancer-causing virus screened for during a Pap smear.
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.