Have you ever asked your heath care provider exactly why you have a pap test with your annual exam? The answer might surprise you. Pap tests, sometimes called pap smears, are life saving tests. Before they were regularly conducted, women frequently died of cervical cancer. Now that we have modern methods of checking the cervix for early signs of cancer, survival rates are much higher.

What is a Pap Test?
Pap tests are usually conducted as part of a pelvic exam during a regular visit to the gynecologist or general practitioner. According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, the test was named after George Papanicolaou, the doctor who developed the procedure in the 1930’s. The test involves brief collection of cells from the cervix. These cells are then sent to a lab to be reviewed under a microscope.

What is an Abnormal Pap Test Result?
After a pap test, your doctor may call you to tell you that your results were abnormal. Don’t panic. This simply means that the test detected cell abnormalities. These abnormalities may indicate early signs of cervical cancer, but they don’t mean you already have cancer. Your doctor will recommend follow-up tests. It’s very important to follow up with these potentially life saving tests that will help deter these cells from becoming cancer.

How is HPV Related to Cervical Health?
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus. It’s the main cause of cervical cancer. According to the CDC, around 20 million Americans carry HPV. It’s so common that about half of all sexually active adults will get it. Unlike other sexually transmitted diseases, there is no regular screening to detect the virus. This is why regular pap tests are crucial to discovering whether or not active HPV might be causing dangerous changes to cervical cells.

Who Needs a Pap Test?
The CDC recommends that every woman over the age of 21 have a regular pap smear. Even if you’re no longer sexually active or you’re no longer of a childbearing age, you still need to have pap tests. Your medical provider will help you determine how often you need to be screened with a pap smear and pelvic exam. Sexual activity and cervical cancer risk factors may be factors that determine how often your doctor would like to see you. Be sure to keep these appointments as an investment in your health and future.

North Hills Hospital is committed to preventative women's healthcare. If you would like to schedule an appointment with a physician for your annual pap test, please call our physician referral line at 1-855-5NHILLS or visit us online here.

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