A Pap test, also know as a Pap smear, is a process where a doctor collects cells from the cervix to be later examined. The cervix is the lower, narrow portion of the uterus that joins into the top end of the vagina. The main purpose for a Pap test is to detect cancerous cells or abnormal cells that may lead to cancer. To ensure the most accurate Pap test results, women should avoid having this test while menstruating.
How is a Pap test done?
A Pap test can be performed during a gynecological pelvic exam. The doctor will insert an instrument called a speculum into the vagina, opening it to see the cervix. An endocervical brush or spatula will be used to obtain cells from the cervix and placed on a glass side to be sent to a lab for examination. A Pap test is usually painless, and only mildly uncomfortable in some women. Pap test results are typically available within three weeks.
Pap During Menstrual Period
Doctors advise against scheduling a Pap test during your menstrual period in order to ensure the most accurate results. If a Pap test is performed during a menstrual flow, collected cells may be obscured or inconclusive. The best time for a Pap test is 10 to 20 day after the first day of your last period, according to WomensHealth.gov. Some doctors may perform a Pap test during a light menstrual period. If you are menstruating a few days before your scheduled Pap test, call your doctor's office to inform them. The doctor may advise you to reschedule the Pap test for when you are not menstruating.
Prepare for a Pap Test
To avoid altering test results by washing away or masking abnormal cervical cells, doctors suggest that the use of douching products, tampons, vaginal creams, suppositories, vaginal deodorant sprays or powders and sexual activity be avoided for two days prior to the test.
Who should be tested?
There is no age limit for the Pap test. Generally, annual Pap testing is advised for women 21 years or older. Women under 21 years old that have been sexually active for three years or more are also advised to have an annual Pap test. Women between the ages of 65 and 70 can speak with their doctor about stopping screening after at least three normal Pap tests and no abnormal results in the last 10 years. There may be other exceptions regarding the need for Pap testing, based on age, health history and your doctor's advisement. (See reference 2)
A Pap test is a screening test to detect abnormal cervical cells. Collected cells can be examined to identify pre-cancerous and cancerous cells, as well as infections such as human papillomaviruses (HPVs) and inflammation. A Pap test is an effective method for detecting the early signs of cervical cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Cervical cancer is most likely to have a better prognosis if detected early.
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