Everything You Need to Know About Pap Smears: How Often to Have Them and What to Expect 

A Pap smear, also known as a cervical smear or Pap test, is a simple and painless screening test used to detect abnormal cells in the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. These abnormal cells can be an early sign of cervical cancer, which is why it is so important to understand when to have a Pap smear and what to expect during the test. 


According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), women should begin having Pap smears at age 21 or within 3 years of becoming sexually active whichever comes first. It is important to know that HPV infection, a major cause of cervical cancer, is sexually transmitted. Therefore, it is essential for women who are sexually active to have regular Pap smears to detect any abnormal cells in the cervix early. 


Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap smear every three years. Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a Pap smear along with an HPV test every five years, or a Pap smear alone every three years.  


Regular Pap smears can save lives by detecting cervical cancer early, when it is most treatable. Early detection allows for prompt treatment and increases the chances of a successful outcome. In fact, when cervical cancer is detected early and treated properly, the five-year survival rate is over 90%. 


The Pap smear test itself is quick and easy. During the test, your healthcare provider will use a speculum to gently open the vaginal walls and will then use a small brush or spatula to collect cells from the cervix. The collected cells are then sent to a lab for analysis. You may experience slight discomfort or cramping during the test, but it should not be painful. 


There are a few things to keep in mind before having a Pap smear. It is best to schedule the test for a time when you are not menstruating, as menstrual blood can make it difficult to obtain an accurate sample. Additionally, you should avoid sexual intercourse, douching, or using any vaginal creams or medications for at least 24 hours before the test. 


If your Pap smear results are abnormal, it does not necessarily mean that you have cervical cancer. Abnormal Pap smear results can be caused by a variety of factors, such as infections or abnormal cervical cells that are not cancerous. Your healthcare provider will discuss the results with you and determine if further testing or treatment is necessary.


In conclusion, Pap smear is an important screening test that can detect abnormal cells in the cervix before they turn into cervical cancer. It’s important to schedule regular Pap smears and consult your doctor for personalized recommendations based on your individual health history. If you have any questions or concerns about Pap smears, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider. 

About The Author

Dr. Coco is a highly-educated and well-qualified primary care physician who graduated from the University of the Philippines Baguio with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and her Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center. She completed her three-year residency training in Family Medicine at Brokenshire Medical Center. She passed her diplomate exams in Family Medicine, given by the Philippine Academy of Family Physicians in 2018. 


Dr. Coco is dedicated to providing comprehensive and holistic care for her patients. She is a primary care physician who believes in delivering continuing comprehensive health care for all. To her, patients are not just a number as she takes time to analyse how she can improve their overall health every chance they can get. 

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