Pap Smears for Cervical Cancer

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Pap smears for cervical cancer: when to screen and what it’s like

Pap smears for cervical cancer: when to screen and what it’s like

A Pap test, also known as a Pap smear, is a medical screening procedure primarily used to detect cervical cancer in women. During this test, your CHI St. Joseph’s Health Primary Care Clinic provider collects a sample of cells from the cervix (the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina) using a small brush or spatula. The collected cells are then examined under a microscope to check for any abnormal changes or signs of cervical cancer.

A Pap test is essential for early detection because it can identify precancerous or abnormal cervical cells before they develop into cancer. When detected early, cervical cancer is highly treatable and often curable.

Benefits of regular Pap smears

  • Early detection and prevention of cervical cancer
  • High rates of successful treatment
  • Minimal discomfort
  • Regular monitoring for abnormal changes
  • Significant reduction in cervical cancer mortality rates
  • Identify the presence of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common cause of cervical cancer

Process of getting a Pap test



Before the test, you may be advised not to engage in sexual intercourse, use vaginal creams or medications, or douche for a day or two before the appointment. These activities can affect the accuracy of the test.



You’ll lie down on an examination table, usually with your feet placed in stirrups to allow better access to the pelvic area. While this positioning can feel a bit exposed, our providers are trained to ensure your comfort during the procedure.



Your provider will use a speculum, a small instrument, to gently open the vaginal walls and view the cervix. They will then use a soft brush or spatula to collect a sample of cells from the cervix’s surface. This part may feel slightly uncomfortable but should not be painful.



The collected cell sample is sent to a laboratory for analysis, and you’ll receive the results from your provider, often within a few weeks. If any abnormalities are detected, they will discuss the next steps, which could include further testing or treatment.

How often should someone get a Pap smear?

The recommended frequency for Pap tests, also known as Pap smears, can vary based on individual factors and guidelines. Here is a general guideline for how often someone should get a Pap test:

  • Age 21 to 29: It is generally recommended for women in this age group to have a Pap test every three years. If the results are normal and there are no other concerns, this frequency is typically sufficient.
  • Age 30 to 65: For individuals aged 30 to 65, there are two options:
    • Pap Test Every Three Years: Women in this age group can choose to continue having a Pap test every three years.
    • Pap Test Combined with HPV Test Every Five Years: Alternatively, they can opt for a combination of a Pap test and an HPV (human papillomavirus) test every five years. This approach is known as co-testing.
  • Age 65 and older: If someone has had regular Pap tests with normal results and no abnormal cervical changes for several years, their provider may recommend discontinuing Pap testing. However, some women with specific risk factors may continue screening past age 65.

Risk factors for cervical cancer

Several factors can increase an individual’s risk of developing cervical cancer. While cervical cancer can affect anyone with a cervix, certain groups are at a higher risk.

  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Lack of HPV vaccination
  • Not having regular Pap tests
  • Smoking
  • Weakened immune system
  • Sexual history
  • Long-term use of oral contraceptives
  • Family history
  • Low socioeconomic status and little access to healthcare
  • A diet low in fruits and vegetables

To learn more or to schedule an appointment with CHI St. Joseph’s Health Primary Care Clinic, call 218-616-3900.

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