Although you probably don’t look forward to your annual gynecologic exam, calling it important is an understatement. The health of your reproductive system may depend on it. And while Pap smears are just one of the tests used to evaluate the health of your cervix, the results could even save your life when done regularly.
At New England Women’s Healthcare, our team is invested in your overall health and well-being. Leading our team are eight highly trained OB/GYN physicians, who offer Pap smears and other preventive testing to keep your body safe and sound.
What is a Pap smear?
A Pap smear is a test that’s used to test for cervical cancer in women. The test involves collecting cells from your cervix and sending them to a lab, where they’re examined for potential cancerous changes.
The Pap smear is often done in conjunction with your annual pelvic exam. These exams are vital to the health of your cervix and your entire reproductive system. Our team also performs other preventive measures like a breast exam, which can also detect cancer early on.
To get ready for the Pap test, you need to undress from the waist down, and you lie on your back on a table that has special stirrups for your feet. When you’re ready, one of our doctors takes a speculum and inserts it into your vagina.
After taking a look inside your cervix, your doctor takes a tiny brush and scrape off cells from several areas of your cervix. The cells are then placed in a tube and sent to the lab for evaluation.
Who should have a Pap smear?
The Pap smear guidelines have changed in the past few years. The American Cancer Society (ACS) changed the Pap smear recommendations in 2020. However, you may need a Pap smear earlier than the guidelines, if our doctors think it’s necessary.
According to the ACS, routine Pap testing doesn’t need to be done until you’re 25 years old. For those 25-65, Pap smears are recommended every three years, with an HPV test every five years.
However, those guidelines change if your Pap smear results come back abnormal, or you’re having other issues in the off years of testing. This can include problems like an infection or inflammation in your cervix or vagina.
The ACS also recommends that Pap smears can be discontinued after age 65, as long as your previous tests have been normal. You can also stop Pap smears after a total hysterectomy, which includes removing your cervix, as long as it wasn’t due to cancer.
The importance of Pap smears
Pap smears are vital to the health and well-being of your cervix — and your entire reproductive system. These tests have the ability to find abnormal or changing cells early on, before they become full-blown cervical cancer.
Without routine Pap smears, you’re unlikely to find cervical cancer until it has spread past your cervix. This makes it difficult to treat, especially when other areas of your body are affected.
However, with routine Pap testing, our team can find precancerous or cancer cells very early on. This increases your chances of successful treatment and recovery. Pap smears are the number one way to screen for cervical cancer.
Pap smears also have the ability to detect certain changes in the cells of your cervix that can signal you’re at risk for cancer later on. This allows our team to provide the proper care and treatment to prevent that cancer from happening.
If you need a Pap smear, contact one of our offices in Wilmington or Woburn, Massachusetts, to schedule a consultation. You may also request an appointment with one of our providers using our online booking tool.