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What is a Pap smear?

A Pap smear is a test your doctor does to check for signs of cancer of the cervix. The cervix is part of your uterus (womb). During a Pap smear, Dr. Dulaney will take a sample of cells from your cervix to be tested and examined.

What is the sample checked for?

The cells are checked for signs that they're changing from normal to abnormal. Cells go through a series of changes before they turn into cancer. A Pap smear can show if your cells are going through these changes long before you actually have cancer. If caught and treated early, cervical cancer is not life-threatening. This is why getting regular Pap smears is so important.

What do the results mean?

A normal Pap smear means that all the cells in your cervix are normal and healthy.

An abnormal Pap smear can be a sign of a number of changes in the cells on your cervix:

  • Inflammation (irritation). This can be caused by an infection of the cervix, including a yeast infection, infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) the herpes virus or many other infections.
  • Abnormal cells. These changes are called cervical dysplasia. The cells are not cancer cells, but may be precancerous (which means they could eventually turn into cancer).
  • More serious signs of cancer. These changes affect the top layers of the cervix but don't go beyond the cervix.
  • More advanced cancer.

How often should I have a Pap smear?

You should have your first Pap smear when you start having sex or by age 18.

Continue having a Pap smear once a year until you've had at least 3 normal ones. After this, you should have a Pap smear at least every 3 years, unless your doctor thinks you need them more often. Keep having Pap smears throughout your life, even after you've gone through menopause.

Certain things put you at higher risk of cervical cancer. Your doctor will consider these when recommending how often you should have a Pap smear.

If you're older than 65, talk with your doctor about how often you need a Pap smear. If you've been having Pap smears regularly and they've been normal, you may not need to keep having them.

What happens if my Pap smear is abnormal?

If the results of your Pap smear are abnormal, your doctor may want to do another Pap smear or may want you to have a colposcopy.

A colposcopy gives your doctor a better look at your cervix and allows him or her to take a sample of tissue (called a biopsy). Your doctor will use an instrument called a colposcope to shine a light on your cervix and magnify it. Your doctor will explain the results and discuss treatment options with you.

 

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