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Should You Get a Pap Smear?

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  • Written By: Jamie Sias, M.D.

Pap smear is used to screen your risk of getting cervical cancer. During your exam, your physician will collect and examine cells from your cervix. It’s important to talk with your physician about when and how often you should have a pap smear because your age and risk factors can change your exam timeline. It is recommended to start pap smears at age 21.

Why is it important?

A Pap smear is an important part of your routine healthcare. It can help find abnormal cells that can lead to cancer. Regular exams can help your doctor find most cancers of the cervix early. Cancer of the cervix is more likely to be successfully treated if it is found early. Pap smears can also find cervical and vaginal problems such as precancerous cells, inflammation and human papilloma virus (HPV).

Your pap smear can diagnose the following conditions:

  • Inflammation
  • Infection
  • Abnormal cells
  • Precancerous cells
  • Cancer

What happens during a pap smear?

Pap smears are usually painless and quick. Your physician will also perform a pelvic exam during your visit as well. An instrument called a speculum will be inserted into your vagina. This will spread the walls of the vagina apart to show the cervix. A small brush, swab or spatula will be used to gently remove cells from the cervix and back of the vagina. The cells will be placed in a vial of liquid or smeared on a glass microscope slide. If you need an HPV test, your doctor will take a sample of cells for this test as well.

pap test

What happens if the pap smear is abnormal?

An abnormal pap smear does not mean you have cervical cancer. This means abnormal cells have been identified on your cervix. It can be a result of an infection or inflammation, herpes, recent sexual activity, HPV and dysplasia. Your physician may repeat the test in four to six months, depending on the type of abnormal cells found. HPV is the main risk factor for cervical cancer, which is a sexually transmitted infection. However, most women who receive treatment for HPV do not develop cervical cancer.

What kind of additional testing will I need if my cells are abnormal?

Your healthcare provider may order these tests:

  • Your cervix and vagina are looked at with a microscope called a colposcope, which magnifies any abnormal areas.
  • Endocervical curettage. Cells are taken from the opening of your cervix with a spoon-shaped tool and looked at under a microscope. This may be done during the colposcopy.
  • A small tissue sample is taken from your cervix and looked at under a microscope. This may be done during the colposcopy.

You may be nervous at your first gynecological appointment but it gets easier. It is important to ask any questions or address in concerns with your physician. Your physician is there to support you and your vaginal health. To schedule an appointment, go to

Dr. Jamie SiasDr. Jamie Sias is an OB/GYN with Crescent City Physicians, Inc., a subsidiary of Touro Infirmary. She received her undergraduate degree from Xavier University of Louisiana and earned her medical degree from Louisiana State University School of Medicine. Dr. Sias cares for patients at two convenient locations, Mid-City and St. Claude.