Today, most cases of cervical cancer are preventable or treatable, thanks to the Pap test. This simple test detects early signs of cancer of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It also can uncover abnormal cells before they become cancer.
A Pap test can reveal abnormal cells caused by infections, such as human papillomavirus (HPV). Women with some types of HPV have a higher risk for cervical cancer.
Who Is at Risk for Cervical Cancer?
Women who may have a higher risk for cervical cancer include those who:
- Do not get regular Pap tests
- Became sexually active before age 16
- Have had many sexual partners
- Have HIV
- Have HPV
- Had a sexually transmitted disease in their teens
Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer
Screening is important for all women, but some are at higher risk than others. Latinas have a higher incidence of cervical cancer than Caucasian women. African-American women are more than twice as likely to die from cervical cancer, yet their incidence is slightly lower, compared with Caucasian women.
What to Expect During a Pap Smear
A Pap test only takes a few minutes and is usually painless. During the test, a doctor uses a small swab or brush to collect some cells from the cervix. The cells are later analyzed in a lab. Most tests turn out normal, but your doctor will contact you if yours is not.
Pap Smear Guidelines
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women begin cervical cancer screening at age 21. Women ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every other year. Women 30 and older who have had three consecutive negative Pap tests can reduce screening to every three years. Those at increased risk for cervical cancer should talk with their doctors about when to start and how often to have Pap tests.
The Next Time You Get Tested
When it’s time for your next Pap test, keep these tips in mind:
- Schedule a Pap test one to two weeks after your period is over. If you have a vaginal infection, wait until it’s been treated.
- Don’t have sex for 48 hours before the test. Also, don’t douche or use vaginal creams or foams for 48 hours beforehand.
Make an Appointment
Is it time for your next Pap test? Make an appointment with an ob-gyn online using ScheduleNow, or use our physician finder to find an ob-gyn.