A Pap smear, also called a Pap test, is a simple swab taken from your cervix during the pelvic exam portion of your well woman visit. The swab is placed into a small sample jar, then the cells are analyzed under a microscope in a lab. The analysis looks for abnormal cells that indicate cervical cancer or, most likely, changes to these cells that may develop into cancer in the future.
Most women between the ages of 21 and 64 need a Pap test every three years. But since you may need one more often, depending on your health, Dr. Ramos determines the frequency based on your situation.
A negative result for a Pap smear is a good result. This means that there is no sign of cell abnormality. You don’t need further testing until your next scheduled Pap smear in three years, unless Dr. Ramos feels there’s a need to test more often.
A positive result means that some abnormal cells were found. In most cases, the abnormal cells come from some types of human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection that may linger in your body for years without symptoms. Typically, the cell changes are temporary and will pass with no treatment required.
Some types of HPV, however, are linked to cervical cancer. These, too, produce abnormal Pap results, so while a single abnormal Pap test is usually not an immediate concern, it’s a sign that you should monitor it closely. Dr. Ramos will likely schedule another test to rule out a false positive test, and may advise that you have Pap smears annually going forward.
Both false positive and false negative results are possible for any single Pap test. False positive tests, where abnormal cells are thought to be present but aren’t, are relatively rare. A false positive test is usually followed by a second Pap smear or a procedure called a colposcopy to verify that there are indeed pre-cancerous or abnormal cells present. Further treatment proceeds only after confirmation of a positive result.
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