We're wrapping up Women’s Health Month, which gives us an opportunity to focus on one of the most important steps women can take for their health: scheduling regular Pap smears to screen for cancer. While you’ve probably heard of a Pap smear, or even been told to get one by your primary care physician, you may still have questions about what exactly Pap smears are and why it’s so important to have them.
Dr. Rosen and the team at Recovery Care are passionate about reducing barriers to all forms of healthcare for women in recovery and educating our patients on the importance of cancer screenings. To learn more about Pap smears this Women’s Health Month, read our FAQ below:
What is a Pap smear, exactly?
A Pap smear or Pap test is a procedure that uses cells from your cervix to test for cervical cancer. It’s meant to be quick, simple, and non-invasive: your doctor will use a small tool to gently scrape a sample of cells from your cervix, at the top of your vagina. Then, your cells will be sent to a lab where they’ll be tested for the presence of cancer.
Are Pap smears painful?
“Scraping” cells from the inside of your cervix may sound unpleasant, and many women describe a pinching sensation or general discomfort. However, the test is non-invasive, and it’s not supposed to be painful. If you do experience pain during a Pap smear, or you’ve experienced pain during prior pelvic exams, it may be time to address an underlying cause with your doctor.
Why do I need a Pap smear?
The mutation of cervical cells that leads to cancer is usually caused by an HPV (human papillomavirus) infection, which is an extremely common STI affecting almost 80% of sexually active Americans. If you are sexually active, even if you have a monogamous partner who has been tested for HPV, it’s essential to have regular Pap smears in order to detect early signs of cancer. With that said, cancer is unpredictable, and the earlier it’s detected, the more successful treatment will be. That’s why the Recovery Care team recommends that anyone with a cervix between the ages of 21 and 65 should come in for regular Pap smears.
How often do I need a Pap smear?
The original Pap smear was invented around 1930 based on the studies of Dr. George Papanicolaou (that’s how the full name -- the Papanicolau test -- came to be), and since then, ongoing studies have resulted in several changes to most doctors’ recommendations. At Recovery Care, we encourage those with a cervix between the ages of 21 and 65 to have a Pap smear once every three years, as this is the age bracket at which you are at the most risk for cervical cancer.
Do I need a gynecologist to perform a Pap smear?
While most women opt to see a general OB/GYN for routine exams like Pap smears, some internal medicine specialists and primary care physicians have the ability to perform the test as well, including Dr. Heather Rosen at Recovery Care. The right option is whichever one is more accessible to you -- nothing should be an obstacle to you being screened for cancer.
At Recovery Care, we proudly provide primary care and recovery support to women, including those who are pregnant. Schedule an appointment today and start getting the care you need to be your best self.