Cervical cancer rates have decreased in the United States over the last several decades however over 12,000 women are diagnosed yearly and tragically 4,000 women actually die from cervical disease. The majority of those women diagnosed with Cervical Cancer are under the age of 35!! The pap smear is a simple painless test that takes less than 10 minutes and can detect abnormal cells years before cancer develops. Because most cases of cervical cancer develop slowly over several years routine screening can provide early detection in most cases.
Most agree that pap screening should begin around age 21 and should be repeated yearly. There are suggestions that women at low risk who have 3 normal pap tests can be screened every 3 years. BUT it is important to know what the risk factors for cervical cancer are and discuss such screening protocols with your healthcare provider. The risk factors for cervical cancer include the following: sexual activity with multiple partners, history of sexually transmitted infections (HPV, Herpes, HIV, Chlamydia/Gonorrhea), smoking, impaired immunity, and age. Because sexually transmitted infections pose a risk to all women routine screening for infections should be part of wellness exam in most women under the age of 35 or if other risks exists. Women over age 65 still benefit from both gynecologic exam as well as pap screening at least every 2-3 years.
Do pap smears hurt? Can I have a pap if I am pregnant? Do I need to prepare for a pap exam?
A pap test should not be painful but can be mildly uncomfortable. It is important to share your concerns or anxieties with your provider. There are techniques that can reduce discomfort and help a woman have a better experience during their gynecologic exam. Pregnancy is not a contra-indication for pap and is actually strongly advised along with certain STD tests based on risk factors. There is no prep for a pap but it is best to avoid intercourse, douching, vaginal cream/gels prior to your appointment and it is preferred that you are not menstruating at the time of pap testing. You may need to reschedule if your cycle is heavy.
Be proactive and get screened for cervical cancer!! Don't be a statistic- Cervical cancer is curable at early stages often with surgery alone. For more information about pap screening or to schedule an appointment call 251-424-1100.