Yearly gynecological exams are an essential part of a woman’s health. Part of a gynecological exam may include a pap smear. We will get into the specifics of a pap smear later in this article, but first it is important to know who needs to get a pap smear, when and why.
Age to Get a Pap Smear
A woman should have her first pap smear by the time she is 21 or when she is first sexually active – whichever comes first. After this initial pap smear or pap test, you should receive another test every three to four years from that point forward, unless results are “abnormal.” If you have abnormal results, your gynecologist most likely will want to double check each year until you have a few “normal” results concurrently. Women should have a regular pap test until the age of 65, as advised by her doctor. Speak with your doctor to determine how often you need one, as gynecological guidelines can change. Nevertheless, this test is considered essential to women’s health care and is covered by almost all insurance plans.
Other Reasons to Get a Pap Smear Sooner
For women under the age of 21 who are not sexually active, you may still need a pap test if you experience any of the following:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding (heavy periods)
- Painful periods
- Unusual vaginal secretions
- Any other abnormal pain or concerns
Women experiencing any of these symptoms should consult their gynecologist to ensure there is nothing abnormal going on with the cells in the cervix and to better understand what they are experiencing.
Importance of the Pap Test
The pap test, which will be used interchangeably with the term “pap smear,” is a screening first and foremost for abnormal changes in the cervix. Abnormal changes in the cervix may point to
HPV, herpes, trichomonas infections, cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer. This test does NOT test for STDs/STIs, but your doctor can easily test you for these during the same exam. Because the pap test can screen for HPV, it is able to save the lives of many women each year. With early detection of HPV, the leading cause of cervical cancer, your doctor can provide treatment to slow the progression of cervical cancer and often cure the patient entirely of HPV.
How the Pap Test Works
During your regular gynecological exam, your gynecologist will carefully insert a speculum into the vagina to widen it a bit. Then the doctor will gently swab a tool – similar to a long q-tip — on the cervix, which is located on the lower section of the uterus, to collect a sample of cells. Once the doctor has the cells he or she needs, those are sent off to a lab for testing.
About a week later, your doctor’s office will share the results of the test with you – which will either be normal or abnormal. If abnormal, your doctor will discuss options for further testing to determine why the results are such.
Schedule Your Pap Test Today
At Women First Health Center, we provide pap tests for girls and women of all ages to ensure their best health. If you are unsure whether your daughter needs a pap smear, feel free to contact us by calling 973-453-3909 and speak with one of our professionals. We will guide you on the best practices, so that you can decide when is the best time to make your gynecological appointment.