What is a Pap smear?A Pap smear is a test that checks for changes in the cells of your cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Developed over forty years ago by Dr. George Papanicolaou, this test can help to detect cervical cancer at an early stage.
What are the benefits of this procedure?Pap smears have made it possible to detect precancerous and cancerous conditions before they can progress to cancer that could spread to other parts of the body, and have save thousands of women's lives by catching cancers before they spread.
Are Pap smears 100% accurate?No. Occasionally, the results indicate normal cell growth but abnormal cells are actually present. This is called a false-negative test.
What causes false-negative tests?False-negative tests can occur for several reasons. The abnormal cells may not have been contained in the sample. There may have been too many or too few cells to allow an accurate reading. An infection could also cover up abnormal cells. If a Pap smear is performed on a regular basis, the chances of a problem going undetected are lower.
How do I prepare for a Pap smear?Do not douche or use vaginal creams for two days prior to the test. Do not have intercourse within twenty-four hours of the test because it could cause inaccurate test results.
What happens after the procedure?If the cells appear normal, no treatment is necessary. If an infection is present, treatment is prescribed. If the cells appear abnormal, more tests may be necessary. A Pap smear is not 100% accurate, so it is always important to talk to your clinician about your results.
Are some women at higher risk for cervical cancer?Women at an increased risk for cervical cancer include those who:
- have had more than one sexual partner or whose partner has had more than one partner
- were sexually active beginning at a young age (before age eighteen)
- have a history of genital warts
You can find out more about Pap smears by contacting the following organizations:
National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service
Contributing to this FAQ on Pap Smears: University of Michigan's Women's Health Program, a National Center of Excellence in Women's Health, sponsored by the Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services.
Reprint provided by the Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services