A Pap smear involves collecting cells from your cervix — the lower, narrow end of your uterus that’s at the top of your vagina.
Detecting cervical cancer early with a Pap smear gives you a greater chance at a cure. A Pap smear can also detect changes in your cervical cells that suggest cancer may develop in the future. Detecting these abnormal cells early with a Pap smear is your first step in halting the possible development of cervical cancer.
How Often Should I Have a Pap Test?
Doctors recommend you begin Pap testing at age 21. You should have the test every 3years from age 21 to 65. If you’re age 30 or over, you can have a Pap test every 5 years if you’re tested at the same time for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). That’s the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), and it’s linked to cervical cancer.
If you have certain health concerns, your doctor may recommend you have a Pap more often. Some of these include:
- Cervical cancer or a Pap test that revealed pre-cancerous cells
- HIV infection
- A weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy, or chronic corticosteroid use
- Having been exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth
How to prepare
To ensure that your Pap smear is most effective, follow these tips prior to your test:
- Avoid intercourse, douching, or using any vaginal medicines or spermicidal foams, creams or jellies for two days before having a Pap smear, as these may wash away or obscure abnormal cells.
- Try not to schedule a Pap smear during your menstrual period. Although the test can be done, it’s best to avoid this time of your cycle, if possible.