What is a Pap test?
A Pap test (sometimes called a Pap smear) is a way to examine cells collected from the cervix, or the "mouth" of the womb (located at the top of the vagina), for the presence of:
- Abnormal cells.
Why is a Pap test suggested for females?
A Pap test, along with a pelvic examination, is an important part of a female's routine healthcare because it may detect abnormalities that can lead to invasive cancer. Most invasive cancers of the cervix can be detected early if females have Pap tests and pelvic examinations regularly. As with many types of cancer, cancer of the cervix is more likely to be successfully treated if it is detected early.
But, the Pap test is not only useful in detecting cancerous cells, it can detect other changes in the cervix and vagina, including dysplasia, or pre-cancer cells. Inflammation in the cervical area may also be detected. Inflammation may be caused by:
- Yeast infections.
- Trichomoniasis infections.
- Medications or other chemicals.
- Miscarriage (or abortion).
Abnormal Pap results
According to the National Cancer Institute, when the Pap test shows an ambiguous or minor abnormality, the test is usually repeated to ensure accuracy.
If the test shows a significant abnormality, a colposcopy may be performed (using an instrument called a colposcope) to examine the vagina and the cervix.
A Schiller test may also be performed, in which the cervix is coated with an iodine solution.
A biopsy may be performed in which the physician removes a small amount of cervical tissue for examination by a pathologist. This is the only sure way to determine whether the abnormal cells indicate cancer.
Who should have Pap tests?
||According to the National Cancer Institute: |
- Females who are or have been sexually active, or have reached age 18, should have Pap tests and physical (and pelvic) examinations regularly.
- Generally, there is no upper age at which Pap tests cease to be effective. Older women should continue to have regular physical examinations, including pelvic examinations and Pap tests.
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