With regular screening tests, such as the Pap test (sometimes called a Pap smear) and HPV test, cervical cancer is the easiest female cancer to prevent. The Pap test looks for precancerous cursors, which really means changes in the cells on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if not treated appropriately. The HPV test looks for the Human Papillmavirus, which causes the cell changes.
When to Get Screened
According to the CDC, women should start getting regular Pap tests at age 21. If your test results are normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait three years until your next Pap test, but this does not mean you have to wait. Check with your insurance and consider keeping this as part of your annual check-up. Keep in mind, the Pap test screens only for cervical cancer, not ovarian, uterine, vaginal or vulvar cancers. If you notice any signs or symptoms that concern you, see your doctor.
The CDC also recommends the Pap test for all women between the ages of 21 and 65 years old. If you get the HPV test along with the Pap test, the cells collected during the Pap test will be tested for HPV as well. It is recommended that women over 30 receive the HPV test as well, but if you are younger, talk to your doctor to see if the HPV test is right for you.
You may want more frequent testing if you have a weakened immune system because of organ transplant, chemotherapy or steroid use, your mother was exposed to DES while pregnant or if you are HIV-positive. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.
How to Prepare for Your Pap Test
Pap tests are not always 100 percent correct. Many circumstances could result in either a false positive or false negative result, usually by washing away or hiding abnormal cervix cells. Keep these tips in mind to help ensure a better test result:
- Do not schedule your Pap test for a time when you are having your period – the best time to be tested is 10 to 20 days after the first day or your last period
- Within two days before your Pap test, you should avoid:
- Using tampons
- Using vaginal creams, suppositories and medicines
- Using vaginal deodorant sprays and powders
- Having sex
When Do You Get Your Results
Your Pap test results could take as long as three weeks. If your test shows something is not normal, don’t panic. There are many reasons why a Pap result might not be normal, but it is very important to talk to your doctor about how best to follow up and receive treatment, if necessary.
Getting a regular Pap test is your best defense against cervical cancer. Take care of yourself by scheduling these important tests regularly.