Pap Smear | Pap Test

The easiest way for women to prevent cervical cancer is with regular screening tests, also called Pap tests (or Pap smear). Pap tests are quick, painless and part of a woman’s routine healthcare checkups. Healthcare providers in doctor’s offices, clinics and outpatient settings offer medical screenings for women, including Pap tests.

What is a Pap test?

Pap tests screen for cervical cancer, or cancer of the cervix. Pap tests are done in a doctor’s office or clinic. Women may go to their gynecologist, primary care doctor or family healthcare provider for a Pap test. The Pap test can be done as part of a physical exam.

A Pap test looks for cell changes on the cervix that could become cancerous if not treated. The Pap test is recommended for all women ages 21 to 65 years old, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Ask your healthcare provider to determine if you need a Pap test.

How a Pap Test is Done

Your healthcare provider will use a speculum to widen the vagina and collect cell samples from the cervix and the area around it. The process takes just a few minutes. The cells are placed on a slide and sent to a lab for review. The lab will determine if the cells are normal.

During the Pap test, your doctor also may do a pelvic exam. Your doctor will manually (by hand) check your uterus, ovaries and other organs. Your doctor will make sure there are no problems.

Risks of Cervical Cancer

The main cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a virus passed from one person to another during sex. Other risks include:

  • Smoking

  • Having HIV (the virus that causes AIDS)

  • Using birth control pills for a long time (over five years)

  • Having given birth to more than two children

  • Having many sex partners

The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screenings. Talk to your provider about how often you need to be checked.

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