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The Importance of a Pap Smear

If you were given the chance to prevent cancer, you would take it, wouldn’t you? 

There are many preventive measures you can take, and a Pap smear is just one of the many screenings available to you. These tests help detect early signs of cervical cancer, so you get treatment as soon as possible.

At New England Women’s Healthcare, our team has all of the screenings available to you at your appointment. Our skilled obstetricians and gynecologists are up-to-date on the latest research on cervical cancer, and they provide Pap smears to help you stay ahead of this type of cancer.

What does a Pap smear detect?

A Pap smear, sometimes called a Pap test, is a type of gynecologic test that detects cervical cancer in women. If you’re a regular patient of ours, you’ve probably had this test before.

A Pap smear involves one of our doctors using a small tool to get a sample of your cervical tissue. This tissue is then sent out to a medical laboratory to be tested for cancerous cells.

The procedure itself is done during your annual vaginal exam. Our doctors use a speculum to see into your cervix, where they look for abnormalities before they take the tissue sample. A Pap smear isn’t painful, but you might feel slight cramping during the tissue collection.

The Pap smear doesn’t take more than a few seconds, and once it’s sent to the lab, you should hear results within the week. Although it’s easy to worry, these tests often come back completely normal. 

Even if your test does come back abnormal, that’s still no reason to panic. Our team guides you through the next steps.

Abnormal tests — what to do next

Make sure you understand this: If your Pap smear comes back abnormal, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer. Pap smears not only check for cancerous cells, but abnormal cells that could potentially become cancerous later on. These are sometimes known as precancerous cells. 

Abnormal cells in a Pap smear are most often caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are several strains of this virus, some of which lead to cervical cancer if left untreated. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, meaning you must be sexually active to get it. 

The cell changes in your cervix that come from HPV can be mild, moderate, or severe. The severity of the abnormal cells determines the next step in your care. 

There are a few common types of abnormal cells, such as:

If your test shows any of the above cells, our team does further testing to rule out cervical cancer. 

The next step is a tissue biopsy, which is performed during a colposcopy. This is administered like a Pap smear, with a speculum in your vagina. However, our team is able to visualize the cells with a colposcope, which allows them to see the areas of concern.

If they find anything abnormal, they take a biopsy and send it to the lab, where it’s examined further to rule out cervical cancer. 

Why this test is important

A Pap smear is one of the most important and reliable tests that screens for cervical cancer. Because the symptoms of this disease don’t show up until it spreads, early detection is the key to getting ahead of cervical cancer.

Pap smears are also very important in detecting the human papillomavirus, which is the leading cause of cervical cancer among sexually active women. HPV is able to be managed, especially when it’s found early on, before precancerous changes begin to appear. 

The frequency of a Pap smear depends on a lot of factors, such as your age and certain risk factors. For example, if you’ve had an abnormal Pap smear in the past, you’ll likely need one every 6-12 months, depending on the severity of the abnormal cells that were found.  

Our team recommends a Pap smear every three years if you’re under 30 years old and have little to no risk of cervical cancer. However, if you’re 30 to 65, they recommend a test every five years, along with HPV testing. This helps you stay ahead of cervical cancer, and gives you peace of mind.

If you’re ready for your yearly exam, including a Pap smear, call one of our offices in Woburn or Wilmington, Massachusetts, at 781-787-3003. You can also request an appointment online with our booking tool.

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