Wellness checks for women should include a pap smear exam. This procedure involves collecting some cells from the cervix and testing them for cervical cancer. The cervix is located at the top of the vagina, right before the opening to the uterus.
This type of test also checks for any changes in a woman’s cervical cells. If the pap smear exam is done frequently enough, the cervical cells can be corrected early to prevent any likelihood for cancer to develop.
Every woman’s overall health and wellness is different. This can bring confusion about the pap smear exam. Questions about how it’s done, who can do it, and what do you need to do to prepare for it is often asked by those new to the procedure.
Here are some of the most common questions about pap smear exams. We hope the information you find in today’s post will shed some light into the procedure and put your mind at ease.
Do I need to get a pap smear exam?
Gynecologists recommend a pap smear exam for all women as they turn 21. However, women don’t have to undergo this procedure annually. For women between 21 and 29, pap tests are usually done every three years. For women 30 and above, it should be done every five years.
When women turn 30, aside from the pap smear exam, they will also need to be checked for HPV. If you tested negatively for HPV and your pap test turns out normal, then you can wait longer for the next screening. Your gynecologist will recommend when you can take the exam next.
On the other hand, if you tested positive for HPV, your gynecologist may recommend a more recurrent screening schedule – even if your pap smear exam comes back normal. This is because HPV has strong links to cervical cancer.
Gynecologists don’t test for HPV for women under 30; they have higher chances of fighting off HPV on their own without affecting their cervical health. Also, younger women can avoid unnecessary testing and harm from procedures they don’t really need.
For women under 21, a pap smear exam is not advisable – even when they are sexually active. According to studies, cervical changes don’t take place during this time for women. A majority of findings from these tests can be caught when they get their first pap test after turning 21.
For women over 65 with consistent pap smear exams throughout the years can stop at a certain point, especially if their exam always comes back to normal. However, since every case is different, it’s still best to consult with your doctor on the best course to take.
Does a gynecologist perform the test?
Can other healthcare professionals do it?
Aside from gynecologists, primary care providers can also do this procedure. The latter are trained in women’s health, and they are not unfamiliar with performing this exam. Additionally, women’s health concerns, such as urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and other sexually transmitted diseases, can be checked by primary care providers.
However, if you need any surgical procedure or if a more complex women’s health issue is seen, then your primary care provider will refer you to a gynecologist.
Still, primary care providers performing a pap smear exam can be beneficial. For starters, they already have a better familiarity with your overall medical history and health. Additionally, it’s more affordable to see primary care providers compared to a specialist like gynecologists.
What happens during the test?
During the pap smear exam, the primary care provider or gynecologist will insert a speculum into the vagina. This tool is used to open the vaginal walls and reach the cervix. Then, a small brush is used to collect the cell samples from the cervix. It doesn’t take long to complete this test.
The most commonly expected feeling is anxiety. Pap smear exams can be nerve-wracking, especially for first-timers. If the patient is tensed or extremely anxious, then this could make the procedure worse. It may cause you to tighten up your muscles, making it harder to insert the speculum.
If you’re feeling anxious before your pap smear exam, don’t hesitate to share any hesitations or fears with your doctor. This will help them know what you’re feeling and in turn, help you feel more comfortable.
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