Why are Pap Smears important?
Pap Smears or Pap Tests are important because they look for precancerous cells on the cervix that can become cervical cancer if left untreated. This test is done in a doctor’s office and involves a plastic or metal speculum that is used to widen the vagina to allow the doctor to examine the vagina and cervix as well as collect some cells and mucus from the cervix. The cells and mucus collected will be sent to a laboratory and checked for signs of cancer. This process can also include an HPV test, and if so the cells will also be tested for HPV in the laboratory. Because HPV is a very common STD and can lead to cervical cancer, it is important to have a Pap Smear every three years starting at age 21 or whenever you become sexually active in order to detect HPV or abnormal cells before they become cervical cancer.
What is HPV? How is it related to cervical cancer?
HPV stands for “human papillomavirus”, a virus that causes an STD. It is spread by skin to skin contact, or vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected person. This virus can cause warts and cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, or throat. Usually those infected with HPV will show no symptoms, so most people who have HPV don’t know they are infected. You can avoid getting HPV by becoming vaccinated against the virus.
In women these precancerous warts are often on the cervix and cause no symptoms. HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer and can also cause other kinds of cancer in men and women including cancer of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, and the back of the throat.
Who is at risk for HPV and Cervical Cancer?
All sexually active people are at risk for contracting HPV. At least half of all sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives. You may have a higher risk of contracting HPV if you have HIV, have a health condition that prevents your body from fighting infections, if you smoke, and if you have multiple sexual partners.
All women are at risk for cervical cancer. Your risk may be higher if you are sexually active, have contracted HPV, have HIV/AIDS, have any health conditions that make it hard for your body to fight infections, if you smoke, have used birth control pills for five or more years, have given birth to three or more children, or have multiple sexual partners.
How can I get a Pap smear?
Usually pap smears are offered as part of an annual well-woman exam. At RealOptions, depending on your stage of life and medical history you may expect your well-woman exam to consist of:
- A general and gynecological health history
- A breast exam, which checks for abnormal breast tissue
- A pap smear and pelvic exam which screens for cervical cancer
- Discussion of health topics relevant to your age and risk factors
- STD testing if requested or recommended
How to book a well-woman appointment at RealOptions
Please be sure to schedule your appointment for a day on which you are not menstruating. Forty-eight hours before your appointment, avoid douching, sexual intercourse, and using any vaginal cream, jellies, foams, medications, suppositories, or tampons.
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