Every year in the United States, more than 14,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and roughly 4,000 women die of the disease. While those numbers are concerning, they represent a dramatic decrease from what they were decades ago — before Pap smears became a regular part of women’s health screening.
In fact, Pap smears play such an essential role in women’s health that Congress has designated the first month of the year to cervical cancer awareness, helping women understand their risks of this life-threatening disease and what they can do to prevent it.
A leading urogynecology specialist in South Miami, Florida, Rafael J. Perez, MD, FACOG, helps patients at the Center for Urogynecology and Advanced Laparoscopic Surgery manage their health through regular Pap smears aimed at identifying the earliest stages of cervical cancer.
Here’s what Dr. Perez wants you to know about Pap smears and the critical role they can play in helping you stay healthy.
Pap smear basics
The purpose of a Pap smear (or Pap test) is to examine cells from your cervix, the lower opening of your uterus. We typically perform Pap tests during your regular pelvic exam.
During the exam, you lie back on the exam table with your feet in the stirrups. We gently open your vaginal canal with an instrument called a speculum.
Next, we use a long-handled swab to obtain some surface cells from your cervix. We examine the cells under a microscope and evaluate them for potential signs of cervical cancer. The test is painless and takes just a few moments.
The CDC recommends Pap tests every three years for women ages 21-65. We may recommend more frequent screening if you have risk factors for cervical cancer, like:
- A history of smoking
- A compromised immune system
- A prior history of cervical cancer
- Sexually transmitted disease (STD) infections
- History of multiple sex partners
- Long-term use of oral contraceptives
We recommend a testing schedule based on your unique risk factors.
What the results mean
Pap smear results typically are referred to as normal or abnormal (or sometimes positive or negative). A normal test result means we found no signs of cancer or precancer. An abnormal test means we found an unusual or abnormal area during the microscopic evaluation.
Many women worry that an abnormal result means they have cancer, but that’s not the case. In fact, many abnormal results are the result of other issues, including hormonal shifts or common infections, like HPV (human papillomavirus) infections.
If your results are abnormal, we may perform a second test to compare results, or we may opt for an office exam to obtain a small sample of tissue from the opening of your cervix. Called a biopsy, the tissue sample is also tested for unusual cellular changes associated with cancer.
Schedule your Pap smear today
Pap smears take just a few minutes, but they can yield a lifetime of better health. If it’s been three or more years since your last test or if you’re at increased risk of cervical cancer, call 305-240-6047 to book an appointment at our South Miami, Florida, center today.