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What Does a Pap Smear Test For?

Clear Smear

If you’re like millions of women worldwide who go through the annual litany of healthcare tests and screenings, you’ve likely found yourself wondering, “What does a Pap smear test for?” It can seem like nothing more than an added hassle on an overcrowded list of things you don’t really understand about the medical world; but as part of a more comprehensive female pelvic exam, a Pap smear test can provide a specialist such as urogynecologist with a more clear understanding of your health as a whole and even alert you to your own risk of developing certain conditions in the future. A Pap smear can be a great diagnostic tool in the doctor’s arsenal, so never dismiss the validity of your physician’s recommendation that one be conducted.

In the Collection

Simply defined, a Pap smear is a swab sampling of the surface cells in the cervix, which are collected after a speculum has been inserted into the vagina to open the area wide enough to allow the doctor greater visibility into the cervix. The collected sample is then sent to a lab for analysis to determine the presence of any abnormal cells. The most important reason for a Pap smear is its ability to help detect changes in the cervix which could be precancerous, in which case those changes can be properly treated to prevent development of cervical cancer. Unfortunately, however, while a Pap smear can be crucial in preventing cervical cancer, it has not been effective in detecting signs of other types of cancer such as uterine, ovarian, vulvar, or vaginal cancers.

Test Time

The frequency of Pap smears depends greatly on age. Many urogynecology specialists adhere to recommendations that women begin having a Pap smear every two years once they reach the age of 21. Once they reach the age of 30, however, the frequency of testing is often reduced to every three years if there have been three successive normal Pap smears and no health issues have significantly weakened the immune system.

Abnormal Pap smears show abnormal cells on the cervix; and depending on the type of those abnormal cells, it may simply be decided that the test be conducted again in four to six months to monitor the cells. In some cases, a colposcopy may be performed to collect further tissue samples and get a clearer picture of the cervix itself.

Make sure your health will pass the test! Talk to the caring team at Coyle Institute today!