The Importance of Pap Tests
By: Haley Robuck, CNP
Pap tests, also known as pap smears, are used to help identify cancerous or precancerous cells within the cervix. Pap smears are usually conducted by a gynecologist or primary care provider who takes a swab of cells from your cervix to test them for abnormalities that could lead to or develop into cancer.
Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease and most people who are sexually active have, had, or will have it at some point in their lives. Normally, the body will clear the virus—including those that cause cancer, within two years; however, some types of HPV present a higher risk of developing into cancer than others. Most people with HPV do not exhibit any symptoms and will spread it without knowing they have it. Indications of cancer may include pain or discomfort in the area, bleeding, vaginal discharge with a foul odor or containing blood. It is recommended that you get vaccinated and practice safe sex by using condoms and other barriers to lessen the risk of getting HPV.
Early detection gives the best chance of treatment and recovery, so it is recommended that you have a pap test every 3 years from age 21-65. Sometimes, a pap test will be given alongside an HPV test, in which some doctors will allow you to wait five years between them upon receiving a normal result. After age 65, talk to your provider about whether further screenings are necessary. If you have had a complete hysterectomy for non-cancerous reasons, you may not need a pap test. Having regular pap tests will allow you to remain on top of your reproductive and pelvic health, as well as increase the likelihood of recovery if you do end up with HPV or cervical cancer. If you have certain health risks, such as an HIV infection, weakened immune system, having been exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth, or a previous history of abnormal pap tests, your provider may recommend you have them more frequently.
To schedule a pap test, please contact your primary care provider. Primary care providers with Fisher-Titus are offering pap tests to patients during their regular wellness visits. For more information, go to FisherTitus.org.
Haley Robuck, CNP is a nurse practitioner with Fisher-Titus Family Medicine in New London. Haley became a Registered Nurse in 2011 following coursework at Firelands Regional Medical Center School of Nursing in Sandusky. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Bowling Green State University the following year and a Masters in Nursing as a Family Nurse Practitioner in 2015 from Ohio University. She is a member of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners