A PAP smear is a test done to screen for cancer of the cervix. A speculum is placed into the vagina to allow visualization of the cervix. Then a sample of cells is taken from the cervix and placed on a glass microscope slide. This sample is sent to a laboratory where it is examined for cancerous or precancerous cells.
The PAP smear is done to try to detect cervical cancer or precancerous changes that can be treated before cancer develops.
There are slightly different recommendations as to the frequency of testing. In general, a PAP smear is suggested when a woman becomes sexually active or when she becomes 21 years old, which ever comes first. Then, most practitioners advise testing every year. Cervical cancer risk increases with early age of first intercourse, multiple partners, or sex with a man who has had multiple partners. Many authorities feel that women with 3 normal PAP smears in consecutive years and who have one partner, may have screening every three years.
Women who have had a hysterectomy for non-cancerous reasons generally do not need a PAP smear. Also, many authorities feel that women at low risk who are over 65-70 years old do not need regular PAP smears, if at all..
Each woman should discuss the frequency of testing with her provider.