What do I need to know about a Pap smear?
A Pap smear, or Pap test, is a procedure to check your cervix for abnormal cells. The cervix is the narrow opening at the bottom of your uterus. The cervix meets the top part of the vagina.
How do I prepare for a Pap smear?
The best time to schedule the test is right after your period stops. Do not have a Pap smear during your monthly period. Do not have intercourse or put anything in your vagina for 24 hours before your test.
What will happen during a Pap smear?
- You will lie on your back and place your feet on footrests called stirrups. Your healthcare provider will gently insert a device called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum is used to spread the walls of your vagina so he can see your cervix. He will use a thin brush or cotton swab to collect cells from the inside of your cervix.
- Your healthcare provider will also collect cells from the surface of your cervix with a plastic or wooden tool called a spatula. He may also gently scrape the upper part of your vagina for a sample. The samples are placed in a container with liquid or on a glass slide. They are sent to a lab and examined for abnormal cells.
How often do I need a Pap smear?
Pap smears are usually done every 1 to 3 years. You may need a Pap smear more often if you have any of the following:
- Positive test result for the human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Cervical intraepithelial neoplasm or cervical cancer
- A weak immune system
- Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) medicine when your mother was pregnant with you
What are the risks of a Pap smear?
You may have mild discomfort during the Pap smear. You may not know you have abnormal cells if you do not have a Pap smear. Abnormal cells may grow and become cervical cancer.
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