A Pap smear is important because it can help detect cervical cancer early, when it is most treatable. Cervical cancer is a slow-growing cancer, so regular Pap smears can help catch it before it spreads to other parts of the body.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women start getting Pap smears at age 21, or sooner if they are sexually active. Women aged 21-29 should get a Pap smear every 3 years. Women aged 30-65 should get a Pap smear and HPV test every 5 years. Women who have certain risk factors, such as HIV or a history of cervical cancer, may need to get Pap smears more often.
During a Pap smear, your doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina to hold the walls open. They will then use a small brush or spatula to collect cells from the cervix. The cells are then placed on a slide and sent to a laboratory for testing.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that can cause abnormal cell changes on the cervix. Most people who are infected with HPV clear the virus on their own, but some people develop persistent HPV infections. Persistent HPV infections can lead to cervical cancer.
A colposcopy is a procedure that allows your doctor to examine the cervix and vagina more closely. During a colposcopy, your doctor will use a special microscope to magnify the cervix and vagina. They may also take a biopsy (small sample of tissue) to test for abnormal cells.
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