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Pap Smear

What Is a Pap Smear?

A Pap smear – also referred to as a Pap test – is a routine screening procedure for adult women. The Pap test is used to detect cervical cancer. Because early detection of cervical cancer can significantly improve a patient’s outcome, this test is recommended for all women between the ages of 21 and 65.

pap smear

How Often Should You Have a Pap Smear?

Three national organizations – American Cancer Society, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – have offered cervical cancer screening guidelines for women with average risk for cervical cancer. You can view the specifics of these recommendations at the Centers for Disease Control page on screening. A summary of these organizations’ recommendations is as follows:

  • Women should undergo screening beginning at age 21. Screening is not advised in women under the age of 21.
  • Women between 21 and 29 years of age should be screened once every three years.
  • Women age 30 and older who have had three normal test results in a row should continue screening once every three years.
  • Women who have certain conditions should have an annual screening. Ask your physician for more information.
  • Women who have had a total hysterectomy (for reasons other than gynecologic cancer) may discontinue screening.
  • Women age 65 and older who have had three normal test results in a row (and no abnormal test results in the last 10 years) may stop getting screened.

Keeping track of when to start and stop screening – as well as how often you should undergo screening – can be confusing. Your women’s health provider at Rocky Mountain Women’s Health Center can tell you when and why screening is recommended, based on your personal medical history.

What Does an Abnormal Pap Test Result Mean?

An abnormal Pap test could indicate precancerous cells, HPV (human papillomavirus infection), or cancer. However, these are not the only possible meanings of an abnormal Pap test. There are many possible reasons that a Pap test could come back abnormal. Read more about abnormal Pap test results here.

When an abnormal Pap smear result occurs, your doctor may perform additional tests, such as:

  • A second Pap test
  • A colposcopy
  • Test for HPV
  • A combination of the above

If your health care provider finds potentially cancerous cells, then a biopsy may be taken. In some cases, the biopsy may also be a form of treatment for the abnormal cells. If the biopsy confirms cancerous cells, then further treatment may be necessary. Ask your provider at Rocky Mountain Women’s Health Center for more information about what your results mean.


Related Reading:

Understanding an Abnormal Pap Smear
Pap Testing: What are the Suggested Guidelines?


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