What is the sample checked for?
The cells on the slide are checked for signs that they’re changing from normal. 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 have cancer. Cervical cancer is not life-threatening if it’s caught early. This is why getting regular Pap smears is so important.
A negative Pap smear means that your results are normal. A positive Pap smear means that your results aren’t normal. A positive 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) or herpes virus, or many other infections.
Very early signs of cancer. These changes are called dysplasia.
More serious signs of cancer. These changes affect the top layers of the cervix but don’t go beyond the cervix. This is called “carcinoma in situ.”
More advanced cancer.
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 negative, you may not need to keep having them.
No test is perfect, but the Pap smear is a reliable test. It has helped drastically lower the number of women who die of cervical cancer.Sometimes the test may need to be redone because there were not enough cells on the slide. The lab will tell your doctor if this happens.ThinPrep, PAPNET and FocalPoint are ways to make Pap smears more accurate. ThinPrep is a way of preparing the sample of cells that makes it easier to spot abnormalities. PAPNET and FocalPoint are computer systems that help lab technicians find abnormal cells. These options may not be available in all areas, and they may increase the cost of a Pap smear.
Plan to have your test done at a time when you aren’t having your menstrual period. Don’t douche, use a feminine deodorant or have sex for 24 hours before the test.