A Pap smear, sometimes called Pap test, is a routine screening done at a gynecologist's office to detect irregularities in and on the cervix. Its name is an abbreviation of its inventor's, Greek doctor Georgios Papanikolaou, who developed the test in 1923. It is the most common form of cervical screening in the United States. Approximately 13,000 new cases of invasive uterine cervical cancer and 4,100 cancer related deaths occur year. Frequently, uterine cervical cancer is without symptoms, or signs. (Signs include: staining or bleeding after sex and/or vaginal discharge.) There are approximately 4,000 new vaginal cancers and approximately 1,000 vaginal cancer related deaths each year in the USA. The frequency of uterine cervical and vaginal cancer has seen a precipitous drop due to the use of the PAP test.
Pap smears are in-office procedures performed by a doctor on an exam table. The vaginal opening and canal are expanded with a speculum; cells are then collected from the surface of the cervix using a spatula. If she had her cervix removed due to a hysterectomy, the top of the vagina may be tested. The procedure itself only takes a few moments. Some patients may note mild cramping or spotting during or immediately following the test, both of which should be brief.
The cervical/vaginal cells are then transferred to either a glass slide or small container of special liquid and eventually examined under a microscope. The test's main objective is to identify any pre-cancerous conditions, most of which are caused by sexually transmitted viruses known as HPV. The results may also indicate presence of infections or atrophy.
It is important to recall that 85% of Americans over the age to 18 years of age, have been exposed and are infected with HPV. Your clinician will discuss with you appropriate Pap smear screening intervals based on an individual’s risk factors. Regular Pap screenings can reduce deaths from cervical and vaginal cancer significantly, provided that patients with abnormal results follow their doctors' recommendations for treatment.