A Pap test, which is sometimes referred to as a Pap smear, is performed in a gynecologist’s office as a part of a routine annual pelvic exam for women. This important test has been around since the 1920s and became a routine part of women’s preventive health care services in the 1940s.
The test was developed by and named after Georgios Papanikolaou. This test is considered to be the gold standard for the early detection of cervical cancer and other disorders of the cervix.
How a Pap Test & Pelvic Exam Are Performed
For a pelvic exam that includes a Pap smear, you will be asked to undress from the waist down. Your gynecologist may give you a paper sheet to cover up with for comfort. To do the exam, the doctor will have you lie down on the exam table and put your feet into the stirrups at the end of the table. The doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina. This instrument opens the sizes of the vagina up by 1 to 2 centimeters so in order to see your cervix. You may feel some light pressure during this process.
A long, thin cotton swab or a small brush or flat instrument is used to collect a few cells from your cervix. These cells are then placed into a specimen tube and sent to a lab for analysis. A pathologist at the lab will look at the cervical cells under a microscope to see if there are any abnormalities that are suggestive of cervical cancer. If any abnormalities are detected, you may need to have a repeat Pap smear done or have some additional testing performed.
During the rest of the pelvic exam, the doctor will locate the position of your uterus, fallopian tubes. and ovaries and palpate your abdomen to make sure that there are no painful areas, swollen tissues, or lumps in your reproductive organs.
When Are These Tests Used?
A Pap test and pelvic exam are performed to check for cervical cancer. If you have had cervical problems in the past, such as an incompetent cervix or unexplained bleeding, a pelvic exam and Pap smear may be able to rule out certain problems. The Pap smear and pelvic exam may also be done for the diagnosis of a human papillomavirus infection.
Who Should Have a Pap Test and Pelvic Exam?
All women between the ages of 21 and 65 years of age who are sexually active should have a Pap test and pelvic exam. Some gynecologists encourage younger sexually active women to also come in and have a Pap test. If you are not sexually active, a Pap test may need to be repeated every three to five years. Sexually active women need to have the test done once per year.
If a test result comes back with abnormalities, a repeat test may be done every 6 to 12 months until the Pap test is normal. Your doctor will let you know how often you need to have this test performed.