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Ladies, here’s why you need a regular Pap test

Ladies, here’s why you need a regular Pap test

A Pap test is an important health screening test 

The purpose of a Pap test (also referred to as a Pap smear) is to identify changes in the cervix that may lead to cervical cancer. FYI: the cervix is the part of the uterus that opens up into the vagina.  

Early on, cervical changes that could indicate a cancer risk don’t cause any symptoms. The only way to know is to do a Pap test. With a Pap test, you and your doctor can identify problems early, when they are easier to manage and treat. In some cases, that can mean catching and stopping cervical cancer before it becomes life threatening.  

Women reading health results with doctor

More: Why Regular Pap Tests Are Important 

Most women ages 25-65 should get a Pap test every 3 years 

The American Cancer Society recommends that most women start getting Pap tests at age 25. After that, you should plan to get another Pap test every 3 years.  

However, your personal screening recommendation may change based on age and risk factors. For example, those who are HIV positive, have had an organ transplant, or have been exposed to DES may need to follow a different schedule. Be sure to talk to your doctor about what timeline is right for you.  

In general, if you are… 

  • Under age 25: No test needed. Cervical cancer is rare for this age group.  
  • Between ages 25 – 65: Get a Pap test every 3 years, and talk to your doctor about other screening tests you should be completing.  
  • Over age 65: You may not need to continue getting Pap tests; Ask your doctor about your specific risks and needs. 

Women on hospital bed

Good news for women without a cervix: because you aren’t at risk of developing cervical cancer, you can skip this particular cancer screening.   

More: Women: Putting your health first is not selfish - it’s necessary! 

What to expect 

During a Pap test, your doctor will gently scrape a sample of cells from your cervix using a small tool. While most women feel some pressure and minor irritation, it is a completely safe procedure that only takes a couple of minutes.  

After collection, the cells are sent to a lab to be examined for any abnormal cell growth or concerning changes. The results will come back as either normal (no abnormal cells identified) or abnormal.  

An abnormal result does not mean you have cancer—it simply means there are some abnormal cells present, which could be precancerous. If you receive abnormal results, your doctor will recommend next steps which could include more frequent Pap smears or additional testing.  

It’s normal to feel mild discomfort or cramping after the test, and some women may also experience some very light bleeding. Reach out to your doctor right away if your discomfort or bleeding continues for more than one day.  

Woman reading results with doctor

How to prep 

While it may seem like a smart idea to wash up before having a Pap test, this can actually erase the signs of health problems—so no need to go wild in the shower! And definitely don’t use any vaginal douches, creams, deodorant sprays, or powders.  

For the most accurate test results, you should also try to avoid having sex, using spermicidal products, or using tampons for two days before your exam.  

If you will be menstruating on the day of your test, let your doctor know. They may want to reschedule to a time in your cycle when the results are more likely to be accurate.  

Lastly, try to relax! While a Pap test can be anxiety-inducing, there is no reason to stress. The more at ease you are, the more comfortable the procedure will be. It may help to do some calming deep breathing exercises beforehand and during.   

When was your last Pap test? 

While getting a Pap test is nobody’s favorite reason to go to the doctor, staying up to date with recommended cancer screenings is an important part of self-care and preventive healthcare.  

Plus, screening is not only good for your health. So if it’s been a while since your last Pap test, reach out to your doctor about scheduling one today.