A Pap smear or Pap test is named after Georges Papanicolaou, a doctor who worked at Cornell University in New York and developed the test in the middle of the last century.
The pap test is a routine test performed on women during their regular gynecological check-up. Typically, the test is performed according to published guidelines, and recommendations how often to do it are often changing, the most recent change in Pap smear guidelines was in 2012. The test is an early detection tool for cervical cancer, changes in the cervix or pre-cancerous cells associated with the cervix.
Who Needs a Pap Smear?
There are official recommendations supported by several organizations including ACOG about cervical cancer screening. During the first test, the patient may wish to bring a close family member to help ease anxiety; other women are completely comfortable with the test and require no additional support. The test takes only a few minutes and involves scraping cells from the cervix. The cells are sent to the lab where they are tested for cancer, pre-cancer and other infections. If the cells are abnormal or cervical cancer is detected, the gynecologist will discuss further testing and treatment options with the patient.
Pap Smear History and Your Future Testing
Frequency of Pap smear tests is often determined by the gynecologist based on potential risk factors and Pap smear results as well as official recommendations. If a woman has no previous familial history of cervical cancer or Pap smear abnormalities, she may be advised to have a Pap smear less often.
Post-hysterectomy patients may not need future Pap smear testing. The total hysterectomy removes the cervix and the uterus, along with other reproductive elements like the fallopian tubes and ovaries in some cases. Women with no history of cervical cancer or pre-cancerous cells who’ve undergone a total hysterectomy do not need an annual Pap smear. There is no cervix to test and with no history of cervical problems, Pap smears are irrelevant. However, post-hysterectomy patients still need to visit their gynecologist annually for a pelvic exam.
Pap smears are a simple and easy preventative and diagnostic tool crucial to a woman’s health. If there is a history of cervical cancer or abnormal Pap smear test results in your family, it may be best to talk with your gynecologist about a personalized testing schedule. The sooner problems are detected, the better the treatment results.