Pap Smears at the Gynecologist's Office

There are many different tests that women get at the gynecologist's office to rule out different diseases. In fact, pap smears are one of the most common tests. What are they? Learn more about them in this article!
Pap Smears at the Gynecologist's Office

Last update: 02 September, 2019

Pap smears are routine medical tests that can detect cervical cancer in women. Also, doctors use them to detect other reproductive system problems. The name of this test comes from Georgios Papanicolaou, one of the pioneering doctors in the diagnosis of this type of cancer.

Some people refer to this test as “vaginal cytology,” “exfoliative cytology” or simply a “Pap.” The goal of this test is to detect possible abnormal cells in the cervix that could become cancerous. It’s about locating these precancerous cells early and treating them to prevent cancer from appearing.

Other more common diseases that Pap smears can find are inflammation or infections. 

However, how often and starting when should women have these tests?

What are pap smears?

Pap smears help gynecologists detect certain diseases early like cervical cancer.

Gynecologists perform pap smears. Normally, you get one in their offices or any health center. In fact, they don’t need much specific equipment, and they’re very fast. The procedure may cause a little discomfort, but it’s not painful.

Usually, doctors do this test along with a pelvic exam. Then, doctors do a general check to check the condition of your uterus, vagina, and ovaries. To see the inside this area, they insert a speculum into the patient’s vagina to widen it.

After the visual inspection, gynecologists will remove a sample of tissue from the cervix. They do this with a scraper or cervical brush.

Next, they place the sample on a small glass plate and send it away to a lab for specialists to analyze. After a few days, the lab will have the results ready, and the patient should go back to the doctor’s office to get the results.

You may be interested: 8 Key Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

When should women start getting pap smears?

Generally, doctors recommend starting pap smears at age 21.

Specialists have debated when women should get their first pap smear for a long time. A few years ago, they recommended adolescents to have their first one at age 16 or 18.

Currently, doctors don’t think healthy teenagers that aren’t sexually active and that don’t have symptoms need to get pelvic exams or pap smears. The age most doctors recommend to start these tests is 21.

Also, when you become sexually active, it’s time to start regularly visiting the gynecologist. However, if you have symptoms of a problem, you should go earlier.

In fact, becoming sexually active implies an increased risk of getting Human Papillomavirus (HPV). In some cases, it can lead to cancer. It also increases your risk of contracting other types of viruses and sexually transmitted infections (STI).

How often should you have these tests?

It's important to get pap smears regularly, especially if you are sexually active.

Until recently, doctors generally recommend that you have this test once a year. However, these instructions have changed a little bit.

In any case, your gynecologist will determine how frequently you should get tested. It all depends on your particular situation. Also, the frequency will depend on whether or not you have a family or personal history. If you don’t have a history or any symptoms, and if the results have been negative for three years, your doctor might extend the time between tests.

In that case, doctors currently say that women between 21 and 29 years old should get tested at least every three years. Women between 30 and 65 years old can have the exam every three to five years, depending on their particular situation.

After age 65, you won’t need periodic exams anymore. However, you might still need them if you have risk factors like HIV, a weak immune system, or have been treated for this type of problem before.

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