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Woman talking with her OB/GYN

Pap smears for cervical cancer: when to screen and what it’s like

A Pap test, also known as a Pap smear, is a medical screening procedure primarily used to detect cervical cancer in women. During this test, your Dignity Health OB/GYN collects a sample of cells from the cervix (the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina) using a small brush or spatula. The collected cells are then examined under a microscope to check for any abnormal changes or signs of cervical cancer.

A Pap test is essential for early detection because it can identify precancerous or abnormal cervical cells before they develop into cancer. When detected early, cervical cancer is highly treatable and often curable.

Benefits of regular Pap smears

  • Early detection and prevention of cervical cancer

  • High rates of successful treatment

  • Minimal discomfort

  • Regular monitoring for abnormal changes

  • Significant reduction in cervical cancer mortality rates

  • Identify the presence of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common cause of cervical cancer

Find an OB/GYN near me

With locations across California, Dignity Health Medical Foundation is just right around the corner. Schedule an appointment with an OB/GYN to get your regular pap test.

Process of getting a Pap test

How often should someone get a Pap smear?

The recommended frequency for Pap tests, also known as Pap smears, can vary based on individual factors and guidelines. Here is a general guideline for how often someone should get a Pap test:

  • Age 21 to 29: It is generally recommended for women in this age group to have a Pap test every three years. If the results are normal and there are no other concerns, this frequency is typically sufficient.

  • Age 30 to 65: For individuals aged 30 to 65, there are two options:

    • Pap Test Every Three Years: Women in this age group can choose to continue having a Pap test every three years.

    • Pap Test Combined with HPV Test Every Five Years: Alternatively, they can opt for a combination of a Pap test and an HPV (human papillomavirus) test every five years. This approach is known as co-testing.

  • Age 65 and older: If someone has had regular Pap tests with normal results and no abnormal cervical changes for several years, their OB/GYN may recommend discontinuing Pap testing. However, some women with specific risk factors may continue screening past age 65.

Risk factors for cervical cancer

Several factors can increase an individual's risk of developing cervical cancer. While cervical cancer can affect anyone with a cervix, certain groups are at a higher risk.

  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection

  • Lack of HPV vaccination

  • Not having regular Pap tests

  • Smoking

  • Weakened immune system

  • Sexual history

  • Long-term use of oral contraceptives

  • Family history

  • Low socioeconomic status and little access to health care

  • A diet low in fruits and vegetables

Women's Health locations in California

Frequently asked pap smear questions

The actual Pap test itself typically takes just a few minutes. However, the entire appointment may take a bit longer due to paperwork and discussions with your OB/GYN.

It's generally best to schedule a Pap test when you are not menstruating, as blood can interfere with the accuracy of the test. However, in some cases, it may still be possible to conduct the test.

Yes, you can usually have a Pap test during pregnancy. Your OB/GYN will make any necessary adjustments to ensure your comfort and safety.

Many cancer screenings are covered by health insurance, especially those recommended as part of routine preventive care. It's essential to check with your insurance provider for specific details about coverage. Unsure whether your health insurance is accepted at Dignity Health offices? Find a full list of accepted insurances here.

If you've missed regular Pap tests, it's important to schedule one as soon as possible. Regular screening is essential for early detection and prevention of cervical cancer, even if you've missed a few tests.

Care where you want it

You don’t have to look far for a team of specialists dedicated to helping you get back to the things you love. Our Dignity Health Medical Group OB/GYN physicians are here to lend a helping hand.