Most of us have heard of the Pap test, or Pap smear, a routine women’s health screening that monitors your cervical health. But is it really necessary? In terms of women’s health, isn’t a mammogram more important?
When it comes to women’s health, screenings definitely aren’t “either or.” Your breast and gynecological health are equally important aspects of a women’s self-care.
Dr. Pamela Kimbrough and the Life’s Cycle team are not only dedicated to providing the most compassionate and advanced care, but they also see a significant part of their work as educational. At our offices in Ardmore and Norman, Oklahoma, we help you to understand and support a treatment plan that you develop together. The Life’s Cycle practice is unique in this way.
How important is a Pap test?
Vitally important. The test, named after one of its inventors, Dr. George Papanicolaou, was developed in the 1920s. With widespread use, it toppled cervical cancer as the No. 1 cause of cancer deaths among women. By the mid-20th century, cervical cancer rates had dropped drastically.
What does the Pap test detect?
The Pap smear detects abnormal cervical cells and lets Dr. Kimbrough prevent cervical cancer before it starts. We now know that the majority of cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Fortunately, HPV vaccines have been developed that young women (and men) should receive around age 12, but this doesn’t mean Pap smears should be abandoned, as some cervical cancers aren’t caused by HPV.
A modern Pap test is a diagnostic double whammy because it finds abnormal cells not caused by HPV if they’re present, and the HPV test, done in conjunction with the Pap smear sample testing in the lab, determines whether the virus is present.
What happens when I get a Pap test?
It’s a simple office procedure here at Life’s Cycle, one that Dr. Kimbrough has performed thousands of times.
As you lie on the examining table, your legs will be spread and you’ll place your feet in stirrups, as you would for any gynecological exam. Dr. Kimbrough gently inserts a speculum, which opens your vaginal walls and allows her access to your cervix. Then she inserts a long, thin tool similar to a spatula to capture a cell sample from your cervix.
You may feel momentary discomfort as she does this, but the test takes very little time, typically just a couple of minutes. After the test, you may experience light bleeding or cramping, and this is perfectly normal.
Dr. Kimbrough then sends your sample to the lab, where it’s tested.
What happens if my Pap test results are abnormal?
It’s important to remember that abnormal results don’t necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. It does mean that Dr. Kimbrough will want to perform further testing.
She may advise more frequent Pap tests or perform a procedure called a colposcopy, which allows her to get a closer and better look at your cervix. If necessary, a biopsy is done and she determines your treatment plan depending on its results.
How often should I get a Pap test?
Dr. Kimbrough will help determine the right schedule for you, as It depends on your age, risk level, and health history, but generally, a Pap test is recommended every three years for women 21 and over.
The good news about the Pap smear
The pap smear has all but eradicated cervical cancer, and with ever-improving HPV tests that detect more and more strains of that virus, the outlook continues to be bright when it comes to this once dreaded, now entirely preventable cancer.
Although you might think you needn’t get tested often for a disease that has been nearly eradicated. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Only by incorporating this important test into your routine care can we continue to ensure that cervical cancer remains virtually wiped out.
Schedule your Pap test today
Call us at Life’s Cycle today to schedule your Pap test, or simply book an appointment online. We’ll advise you on how to prepare for your appointment and look forward to partnering with you in your care.