The Pap Smear is a screening test for cervical cancer (cancer of the opening of the womb) that is performed every three years during your yearly gynecologic exam. Formerly pap smears were performed yearly; but, the newest scientific evidence shows that pap smears done at slightly longer intervals with HPV (Human Papillanoma Virus) testing increases the effectiveness of the test and decreases the incidence of false positive tests.
HPV is a virus that is transmitted sexually. The virus is very common and if you have had more than one partner in your life time or if you haven’t but your partner has, chances are about 95 % that you will have the HPV virus at some point in your lifetime. Most of these infections clear by your body’s immune system and may never be detected. There are many types of HPV but only 14 types can cause cervical cancer. The other types may cause warts of the skin or genitals. The types of HPV that are responsible for causing cervical cancer are very common but cervical cancer is not common at all. Regular cancer screening though pap smears is essential for managing precancerous changes to the cervix that then prevent the cancer from ever developing. Abnormal pap smears are monitored more closely and sometimes require a procedure called a colposcopy, where the cervix is looked at under magnification.
Pap smear screening should begin at age 21 and continue until age 65 or at the discretion of your provider. Further information can be obtained from the Center for Disease Control (CDC.gov) website or the American Association for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP.org).
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