If the thought of a Pap smear fills you with anxiety, you’re not alone. Most women can talk at length about their Pap smear experiences and why they’re hesitant to see their gynecologist regularly. However, annual visits with your gynecologist for well-woman exams and periodic Pap smears, or cervical cancer screening, are one of the best steps you can take for your health, even if they are uncomfortable and scary. Here’s what to know about exactly what this type of cancer screening does and why you should make sure it’s on your schedule.
A Pap Smear Checks for Cervical Cancer Risks
The biggest risk factor for cervical cancer is the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is extremely common and most patients will come into contact with it regularly. Other factors that can increase risk of cervical cancer including smoking, long-term use of birth control pills, and multiple pregnancies.
Certain strains of HPV can cause abnormal cells to develop on the cervix. While most women will have no signs or symptoms of early stage cervical cancer, Pap smears can check for abnormal cells and the presence of HPV. This means you can catch suspicious results early with regular preventive care! Also, be sure to ask your gynecologist about the vaccine that can help protect you against these cancer-causing HPV strains.
Everyone Should Start Pap Smears at 21
The Centers for Disease Control has laid out guidelines for cervical cancer screening. All women should begin getting Pap smears at age 21 with regular tests every three years until age 30. As you get older, cervical cancer screening can be spaced out to every 5 years and most women over age 65 only get Pap smears as needed. However, these are the guidelines for patients who don’t have any abnormal Pap results or other health concerns that might mean they should have more frequent screening. Your gynecologist can make sure you know the right timeframe for your regular Pap smears based on your unique health concerns.
Pap Smears Can Reduce Your Chance of Cervical Cancer
There have been numerous studies about the direct correlation between a decline in deaths from cervical cancer and a rise in regular Pap testing. This means that regular Pap tests can prevent you from developing cervical cancer because your gynecologist can promptly begin treatment once abnormal cells are found— and before they spread. Cervical cancer, like many types of cancer, can be exponentially easier to treat when it’s detected early.
Schedule an Appointment
At our New York City offices, our award-winning gynecological team can perform Pap smears and ensure you’re getting the care you need for your long-term health. To schedule an appointment, we invite you to contact us by calling or filling out our online form.