The Papanicolaou smear, more commonly called the PAP smear, is a test routinely performed during your gynecology visit. The PAP test screens women for cervical dysplasia, which is pre-cancerous cells, or cancer. This test may simultaneously screen for HPV, or human papillomavirus.
Your doctor will take a microscopic brush and collect a sample of cells from your cervix and send them to a cytopathologist for review.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, is the most important risk factor in the development of cervical cancer. In 1976 Harald zur Hausen published the hypothesis that human papilloma virus plays an important role in the cause of cervical cancer. In 1983 and 1984 zur Hausen and his collaborators identified HPV16 and HPV18 in cervical cancer. Other risk factors for cervical are multiple sexual partners, smoking and a weakened immune system.
HPV is usually an asymptomatic infection that means that there may be no obvious signs and symptoms. Most HPV infections are temporary and resolve within a few years without any treatment. 10-20% of certain strains of HPV persist and may lead to cervical cancer. It usually takes many years for HPV infections to cause cancer.
A vaccine is available to prevent infection with some types of the HPV strains. Smoking cessation and condom use will also decrease the risk of cervical cancer.
Every woman age 21 and above should be screened for cervical cancer and the test should be repeated every 2-5 years if the results are normal. Women with abnormal pap smears and/or women over the age of 30 should be screened for HPV more often.
Remember that Cervical cancer screening can detect cancer or precancerous lesions in the early stages when it can be more easily treated, and thus limit the number of deaths from cervical cancer. Remember to talk to your provider about when you need your next cervical cancer screen.
Maternal Fetal Medicine blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!