Pap smears test for cervical cancer, which still affects more than half a million people worldwide currently.
Since screening with pap smears became common practice about 50 years ago, the incidence of cervical cancer has decreased significantly by 70 percent worldwide.
Despite this, cervical cancer remains the third most common gynecological cancer in the United States, after uterine and ovarian cancer.
We recommend women start doing pap smears at age 21, unless they have an immunodeficiency.
Routine pap smears for screening can be done every three years.
If you have an abnormal pap smear, your doctor may recommend that you follow up sooner, based on your results.
Your doctor should give you a call to discuss abnormal results and let you know what the recommended follow-up procedure is.
Oftentimes, a colposcopy is recommended. This is an office procedure where we take a closer look at the cervical cells with a microscope.
If there are abnormal cells, a small biopsy may be taken.
One of the most common questions I receive is, “Do pap tests hurt?” Pap smears can be uncomfortable at first, but are generally not painful. Your doctor should be able to talk you through an exam to ease the discomfort.
I also get a lot of questions about the human papillomavirus (HPV) once patients have an abnormal pap smear.
This question gets very complicated and can be a whole other blog article on its own.
In general, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease. By age 50, 90 percent of people (both male and female) have had contact with HPV at some time in their life.
It is very common and does not always lead to cervical cancer.
Only with the persistence of HPV, if a body is not able to develop antibodies to fight off the infection, does HPV lead to cervical cancer.
Pap smears are still recommended even if you have been vaccinated.
Though the newest HPV vaccine protects against seven types of HPV (the previous available version covered two high-risk types of HPV responsible for causing 80 percent of cervical cancer cases), the vaccination does not cover all serotypes of HPV that can cause abnormal pap smears.
However, if you have been vaccinated, your risk for cervical cancer is significantly reduced.
Also, this recommendation may change once we get more data from patients who have received the full vaccination series and have been followed over time.
Published on: January 17, 2019