What is a Pap smear?
A “Pap smear” is short for Papanicolaou smear, named after George Papanicolaou, the one that discovered a technique to detect early signs of cervical cancer. Before the 1950s, cervical cancer was one of the leading causes of cancer and death in childbearing women. The Pap smear is designed to detect cells that have a high chance of turning into cervical cancer so that we can do things before they cause major issues.
A Pap smear does not detect cancer in the ovaries or the rest of the uterus.
So how do you do a pap smear?
To do a pap smear we first do a speculum exam (the clamp). That allows us to see the cervix. We then use a little spatula and brush to take some cells from the cervix. That will tell us if there are changes those cells that can indicate a high risk for cervical cancer.
Who needs a pap smear?
We recommend all women with a cervix from ages 21 to 65 to have Pap smears. After 65 years of age if you have not had an abnormal Pap smear in the last 20 years you no longer need Pap smears.
If you have had a hysterectomy and your cervix was removed for reasons other than cervical cancer or persistent pre-cancerous cells you no longer need a Pap smear.
How often do I need a Pap smear?
Depending on your age, your history, and your risk factors you may only need to have a pap smear every 3-5 years. Please talk to your gynecologist to see how often you should have a Pap smear to prevent cervical cancer.