A pap smear is a test to detect cervical cancer in women. Having a Pap smear every three years offers the best chance of preventing cervical cancer. Pap smear screening is recommended starting around 21 years of age if you are sexually active and then every 3 years. For women 30 years and older, the recommended screening interval is every 3 years. The screening interval is every 5 years if HPV (human papillomavirus) testing is performed along with the routine Pap test. Routine Pap testing can be stopped in women who have had a total hysterectomy for benign conditions (non cancerous) or at age 65 with previous normal pap smear results after consultation with your gynaecologist . In certain conditions like previous history of immunocompromised state (such as those who have had an organ transplant) or DES (diethylstilbestrol) exposure while in the womb should have yearly pap tests .
What does my Pap Smear Test indicate?
It is important to know that no screening test is 100 per cent accurate. An abnormal pap test does not mean that you have cancer. So one should remain calm as HPV is very common and abnormal cells can be treated to prevent cervical cancer. An abnormal Pap smear result means that some cells from your cervix look different from normal cells. Your doctor may advise you repeat pap smear, HPV DNA test to identify the high risk types of HPV (virus responsible for causing cervical cancer) or refer you to a gynaec oncologist for colposcopy.
Colposcopy is a procedure in which the abnormal cells are examined closely using a microscope with a bright light, known as colposcope. The area with abnormal cells is identified and a tiny piece is removed and sent to the laboratory which is known as biopsy.
However, if you notice unusual vaginal symptoms, such as bleeding between periods or pain during intercourse, you should see your gynaecologist even if your tests were normal.