Cell changes on the cervix can lead to cervical cancer if not found and treated. With early detection and treatment, cervical cancer can almost always be prevented – which is why having regular Pap tests is so important.
How is the Pap Test Performed?
A Pap test is a quick and simple test that your doctor can perform during a pelvic exam:
- You’ll lie on an exam table and place your feet in stirrups
- Your doctor will gently insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina to hold it open to view your cervix
- Your doctor will then insert a special stick or brush to take some cells from the surface of and inside your cervix; the cells are placed on a glass slide and sent to the lab for testing (results are usually available within 10 business days)
What the Test Will Feel Like
- You may feel some mild discomfort when the doctor takes cells off your cervix, but the test should not be painful
- You may have some spotting after the test
Do I Need a Pap Test?
- If you’re between the ages of 21 and 65, you should get a Pap test as part of your routine healthcare
- If you don’t have a cervix (because of a hysterectomy) and don’t have a history of cervical cancer or abnormal Pap test results, you do not need to have Pap tests
- If you’re older than 65 and have had 3 normal Pap tests in a row (and no abnormal Pap tests in the last 10 years), you do not need to have Pap tests
How Often Should I Get a Pap Test?
It’s important to talk to your doctor about what’s best for you. Most women can follow these guidelines:
- If you’re between the ages of 21 and 29, you should get a Pap test every 3 years
- If you’re between the ages of 30 and 64, you should get a Pap test and human papillomavirus (HPV) test together every 5 years, or a Pap test alone every 3 years
- If you’re 65 or older, ask your doctor if you can stop having Pap tests
You may need to get a Pap test more often if you’ve had treatment for abnormal Pap test results or cervical cancer in the past, you’re HIV-positive, your mother was exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant, or your immune system is weakened because of organ transplant, chemotherapy or steroid use.
How to Prepare for a Pap Test
You should schedule your Pap test for when you’re not having your period. In addition, because these things can cause incorrect test results, for 2 days before your Pap test:
- Do not use tampons; vaginal creams or suppositories; vaginal deodorant sprays or powders
- Do not have sex or douche
Does Insurance Cover the Pap Test?
Pap tests are covered under the Affordable Care Act. Depending on your health insurance, you may be able to get the Pap test at no cost to you.
Questions About the Pap Test?
The physicians and nurses at Women’s Health are here to provide answers. Simply contact us.