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What is Pap smear?

What is a Pap test and why is it done? Questions are answered by Agnieszka Konieczna, MD, gynaecologist at the Medfemina Health Centre in Wrocław

What is a Pap test (Pap smear)?

Agnieszka Konieczna: A pap test consists of taking a smear from the cervix with a specially prepared brush, putting the material on a slide and fixing it.   A swab can be taken during an ordinary gynaecological examination. The test is completely painless, usually the woman does not even feel the moment the swab is taken. In the next step, the smear is evaluated by an experienced cytologist or histopathologist. This is why the test result is not obtained on the spot.

What is a Pap test done for?

Agnieszka Konieczna: A pap smear is used to prevent cervical cancer. It is very important because cervical cancer usually takes several years to develop and it is preceded by the occurrence of so-called precancerous conditions, which can be detected by cytology. When detected early, cervical cancer is a curable disease! The screening, however, is not used to detect inflammation in a woman’s genital tract. Of course, the presence of inflammation can be detected by this test, but that is not the purpose of performing a cytology.


And at what age should a woman think about getting her first Pap smear test?

Agnieszka Konieczna: It should be age of 25. If you have started sexual intercourse, it is reasonable to get your first cytology earlier, that is, up to 3 years after starting intercourse.


When is the best time to come for a Pap test?

Agnieszka Konieczna: It is best to have a cytology done around day 10-14 of your cycle, this is when you get the most conclusive test results.

In fact, cytology can be taken on any day of the cycle, except for menstruation. This decision should be made by your doctor, especially if there is a suspected cervical abnormality.


How to prepare for the test?

Agnieszka Konieczna: A pap smear in a young woman does not require special preparation. Keep in mind that you should not use vaginal medications a few days before your cytology. A woman should also not have intercourse about 2 days before the test.

In women who are perimenopausal, special estrogen globules are sometimes used before cytology so that the test results can be interpreted correctly.


Is an abnormal test result a major cause for concern in every case?

Agnieszka Konieczna: It all depends on the type of result. Sometimes the result simply needs to be repeated, but some results require further testing and in-depth diagnostics such as colposcopy or biopsy.


If the test result was correct, can we „forget about the case” for several years?

This is a very difficult question with no clear answer. It all depends on the individual woman’s situation. Normally, a pap smear test should be done every year.  Very rarely, the time between the tests can be extended up to 3 years, but you should always consult your doctor. If the results are unclear, the test should be taken more often than once a year.

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