For many women, Pap tests are just a routine part of their health care. Been there, done that. Other women, however, are skipping this screening — and may not realize what they’re missing.
Whether you’ve never had one, have just fallen behind or never miss a test, here are some important and helpful facts to know about Pap tests.
Q. What is it for?
A. A Pap test — sometimes called a Pap smear — is a screening test for cervical cancer. Your cervix is the lower, narrow part of your uterus that opens into your vagina.
Early detection of cancer is important, but this test doesn’t stop there. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), the main benefit of this screening is prevention. A Pap test can help find abnormal changes in the cells of your cervix before they turn into cancer.
Q. How is a Pap test done?
A. Your health care provider uses a device called a speculum to widen the vagina to see the cervix. Then he or she swabs or brushes the cervix to collect a cell sample. These cells will be sent to a lab for testing.
Q. Is a Pap test the same as a pelvic exam?
A. It’s easy to confuse them because they often happen at the same appointment — but they are different.
During a pelvic exam, your health care provider looks at and feels your reproductive organs — including your uterus and ovaries. This may help detect certain conditions. Pap tests are often done during a pelvic exam.