Most OB/GYNs recommend that their patients have a Pap smear by the time they reach the age of 21, and earlier than that if they are sexually active.
While this can depend on the situation, it's generally not as often as people think. If the Pap smear is normal, there is typically no need to have another one for between three and five years. The length of time between Pap smears depends on age and on specific health concerns.
A Pap smear is often included in a well-woman checkup unless the patient had one recently. The well-woman checkup is the ideal time for the OB/GYN to evaluate overall female health, and Pap smears are a natural part of this in most cases.
The Pap smear is a very quick and simple test. During a pelvic exam, the doctor will use an instrument called a speculum to temporarily widen the opening of the uterus, the cervix. This is not generally painful, but patients may feel some minor discomfort for a brief period. The doctor will then quickly and delicately do a scraping of the cervical area to obtain cells for testing. The speculum is then removed and the pap smear is over.
The cell sample obtained during the Pap smear will be tested for unusual cellular activity. If the sample shows the presence of HPV, the patient may need to return to the doctor's office to have a biopsy. Even if the Pap smear is abnormal, there is no need to panic. An abnormal result is not unusual, and it does not automatically mean that cancer is present. If further testing does reveal cancer, there are many treatment options available.
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