Pap smears

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Updated: 4/11/2007 2:50 pm
A Pap smear should be a routine part of a woman's yearly gynecological examination. The primary purpose of a Pap smear is to detect changes in the cells of the cervix which may lead to cervical cancer, while they're still in the early or pre-cancerous stages. During the examination, a sample of cells will be removed from your cervix with a small plastic or wooden spatula, or a cotton swab and brush. The cells are put on a slide and sent to the laboratory. There, the specimen will be examined under a microscope, and the results sent back to your doctor. A negative result means that no cancerous cells were found, and a positive test indicates that abnormalities may exist. Oftentimes abnormalities do not mean that a cancer exists, but that these changes may eventually become a cancer if they are not appropriately treated. An abnormal result is usually followed by further diagnostic tests. The American Cancer Society recommends that women have a Pap smear by age 18, or earlier if they're sexually active. After three consecutive normal tests, your doctor will let you know how frequently testing is needed. Because cervical cancer seldom causes symptoms, many doctors recommend that a pelvic exam, including a Pap smear, be performed each year. This is especially true in those who have risk factors such as becoming sexually active at a young age, multiple sexual partners, history of a sexually transmitted disease, or previously abnormal Pap smears. For more information on Pap smears, contact a health care professional.

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