Pap Smear (cont.)
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- What is a Pap smear?
- Who should have a Pap smear?
- Which women are at increased risk for having an abnormal Pap smear?
- How is a Pap smear done?
- What are the risks of having a Pap smear?
- How is a Pap smear read (analyzed)?
- What information is included on a Pap smear report?
- Why is a woman's menstrual status important for the Pap smear?
- Why is a woman's past Pap smear history pertinent?
- When might a Pap smear not be adequate for interpretation?
- How is the final Pap smear diagnosis made?
- What are the possible recommendations for follow-up after a Pap smear?
- What treatments are available if a Pap smear is abnormal?
- What is the follow-up after treatment for an abnormal Pap smear?
- What is the current status of human papilloma virus (HPV) testing?
- When should women start and stop having Pap smears, and how often should Pap smears be performed?
- What is the current status of the newer Pap smear technologies?
- With Pap smears so available, why are women still dying of cervical cancer?
- Historical note: Dr. Pap
- Pap Smear At A Glance
- Find a local Obstetrician-Gynecologist in your town
Which women are at increased risk for having an abnormal Pap smear?
A number of risk factors have been identified for the development of cervical cancer and precancerous changes in the cervix.
The principal risk factor is
infection with the genital wart virus, also called the
(HPV), although most women with HPV infection do not get cervical cancer. (See below for details). About 95%-100% of cervical cancers are related to HPV infection.
Some women are more likely to have abnormal Pap smears than other women.
- Smoking: One common risk factor for
premalignant and malignant changes in the cervix is
smoking is associated with many different cancers, many women do not realize
that smoking is strongly linked to cervical cancer. Smoking increased the
risk of cervical cancer about two to four fold.
- Weakened immune system:
Women whose immune systems are weakened or have become
weakened by medications (for example, those taken after an organ transplant) also have a higher risk of precancerous changes in the cervix.
- Medications: Women whose mothers took the drug
diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy also are at increased risk.
- Other risk factors: Other risk factors for precancerous changes in the cervix and an abnormal Pap testing include having multiple sexual partners and becoming sexually active at a young age.
How is a Pap smear done?
A woman should have a Pap smear when she is not menstruating. The best time for screening is between 10 and 20 days after the first day of her menstrual period. For about two days before testing, a woman should avoid douching or using spermicidal foams, creams, or jellies or vaginal medicines (except as directed by a physician). These agents may wash away or hide any abnormal cervical cells.
A Pap smear can be done in a doctor's office, a clinic, or a hospital by either a physician or other specially trained health care professional, such as a physician assistant, a nurse practitioner, or a nurse midwife.
- With the woman
positioned on her back, the clinician will often first examine the outside of
the patient's genital and
rectal areas, including the
urethra (the opening where
urine leaves the body), to assure that they look normal.
- A speculum is then
inserted into the vaginal area (the birth canal). (A speculum is an instrument
that allows the vagina and the cervix to be viewed and examined.)
- A cotton swab
is sometimes used to clear away mucus that might interfere with an optimal
- A small brush called a cervical brush is then inserted into the opening of the
cervix (the cervical os) and twirled around to collect a sample of cells.
Because this sample comes from inside the cervix, is called the endocervical
sample ("endo" meaning inside).
- A second sample is also collected as part of the
Pap smear and is called the ectocervical sample ("ecto" meaning outside).
cells are collected from a scraping of the area surrounding, but not entering,
the cervical os.
- Both the endocervical and the ectocervical samples are gently
smeared on a glass slide and a fixative (a preservative) is used to prepare the
cells on the slide for laboratory evaluation.
A bimanual (both hands) pelvic exam usually follows the collection of the two samples for the Pap smear. The bimanual examination involves the physician or health care practitioner inserting two fingers of one hand inside the vaginal canal while feeling the ovaries and uterus with the other hand on top of the abdomen (belly).
The results of the Pap smear are usually available within two to three weeks. At the end of Pap smear testing, each woman should ask how she should expect to be informed about the results of her Pap smear. If a woman has not learned of her results after a month, she should contact her health care practitioner's office.
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