Preventing future health conditions is vital for everyone, and it’s especially important in a few specific areas for women. Women are at extra risk for certain cancers and other diseases, and catching any sign of these before they become serious is important.
One of the tests that is performed on a regular basis for women is a Pap smear test. Pap tests help detect early stages of cancer in the cervix, meaning they are preventive in nature. While these tests can’t cure any diseases already present, it can help prevent future ones.
So, what are Pap tests, and how can they help you?
What Are Pap Tests?
A Pap test is used to help detect cancer or early cancer-causers in women. It does so by taking a small sample of cells from the cervix, then looking for changes in these cells that might indicate the presence of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer often shows up early on in the form of small tumors, which can be difficult for basic tests to pick up. This is what makes Pap tests so useful. The early knowledge of these tumors that Pap tests can provide leaves more treatment options open than if the cancer was discovered later.
How Often Do I Need A Pap Test?
How often you should get a Pap test depends on your age.
- • 21-30: Every three years
- • 30-65: Every five years
- • Older than 65: If your doctor doesn’t detect any extra risk of cervical cancer, it’s usually okay to stop getting Pap tests
These age ranges and year gaps can change based on individual circumstances. Especially if you’re at any high risk of cancer, your doctor may recommend a Pap test more often.
What Do Pap Test Results Mean?
Your results on a Pap test come back as either normal or abnormal, based on how the cells in the cervix look. Normal means you have nothing to worry about.
Abnormal means there’s a concern, but be aware: an abnormal test doesn’t always mean you have cancer or will develop cancer in the future. Pap tests can also show infections or inflammation, in which case a new Pap test or a different test is needed to help diagnose a problem.
For the greatest accuracy on Pap tests, your doctor will likely advise you to avoid sex, vaginal creams or douching for 48 hours before your test. In some cases, you may need to get a new Pap test because not enough cells were collected, or the cells were abnormal in some way.
In cases where you do have cancer that’s detected by a Pap test, your doctor work with you to provide the correct treatment. Pap tests often detect the earliest stages of cancer – and if detected early enough, your treatment could be less invasive than typical cervical cancer cases. You may also be able to eliminate the cancer and move into remission faster.