What is it?
A pap test, also called a pap smear, is a test to check for changes in the cells of the cervix. This test can help doctors diagnose infection, cervical abnormalities and cervical cancer. Cells are collected during a pelvic exam by using a special swab that scrapes a few cells from in and around the cervix. This is usually painless, though some women find it uncomfortable.
How often should I have a pap smear?
Women under thirty should have a pap test annually. If you are over thirty and have had three consecutive normal pap tests, your doctor may decide that you can have a pap test every two to three years. Women 65 or over may not need pap tests any longer – check with your doctor to be sure.
What if the test comes back positive?
An abnormal result does not necessarily mean that you have cervical cancer. Most often it is an indication of a problem with the cervix. In some cases, however, abnormal cells can turn into cancer. If you have an abnormal result, your doctor may repeat the test. If further information is needed to reach a diagnosis, your doctor may examine the cervix using a colposcopy, perform an endocervical curettage or perform a biopsy of the affected cells.