The Pap smear was introduced in 1943 by George Nicholas Papanicolaou. He developed the test to catch cervical cancer in its early stages, when it can be cured. This simple test is often performed as part of an annual well-woman exam, which makes it easy to incorporate into your self-care routine.
Every year, approximately 4,000 women in the United States die from cervical cancer. This tragedy is compounded by the fact that early detection of cervical cancer almost always leads to a cure. Cervical cancer is a very slow-growing malignancy, so when you catch it early, you can remove it and cure the cancer.
Of course, you can’t benefit from the information that a Pap smear provides if you never have one. If you’ve avoided a Pap smear, or are afraid of what its results might mean, Rafiq Mian, MD, our expert gynecologist at Mian OB/GYN & Associates in Silver Spring, Maryland, wants to assure you that a Pap smear is easy, pain-free, and an important part of self-care.
To help you feel more comfortable with Pap smears, we’ve produced this short guide. Here you’ll learn five encouraging facts about Pap smears, the information they provide, and why they should be part of your health routine.
1. Pap smears save lives
Back in the early 20th Century, about 24-37 out of every 100,000 women died from cervical cancer. After Pap smears became widespread, however, that figure plummeted. By 2008, only 7.5 out of every 100,000 women died from cervical cancer.
If more women had Pap smears, the current death rate from cervical cancer would drop even more. Unlike many cancers, cervical cancer grows very slowly so that it’s highly treatable and curable.
2. Your Pap smear is probably covered by your insurance
If you have health insurance, you might not even have to worry about how to pay for your Pap smear. Most insurance plans allow for one preventive primary care visit per year, plus a well-woman exam, too.
If you’re due for a Pap smear, Dr. Mian includes it in your well-woman exam. Your insurance then pays for all costs associated with performing the test and interpreting the results. Be sure to verify that your particular insurance pays for the test. If not, let us know, and we will help you finance the costs.
3. A Pap smear only takes minutes
When your gynecologist checks your reproductive organs during a well-woman exam, it’s easy to incorporate a Pap test.
Your gynecologist inserts a sterile instrument called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum goes into and then expands the opening of your uterus, known as the cervix. The provider inserts a swab and quickly removes some cells from your cervix, which they then send to a laboratory for analysis.
You may feel a pinch when the speculum is dilated and another when the swab is taken. But that’s the entire procedure. Your doctor then removes the speculum, and your test is over.
You may feel a little crampy for a few hours after your Pap smear. However, most women don’t experience any lasting symptoms. You may also spot slightly afterward.
4. You get the results fast
You don’t have to wait weeks and weeks to find out the results of your Pap smear. Usually, your doctor notifies you within a few days to a week or so.
If your results are negative, that means no abnormal cells were detected on your cervix. You don’t have to do anything until your next scheduled Pap test, which varies by your age and whether you continue to be sexually active.
If your results are positive, that doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. All it means is that we need to investigate the results further. We may recommend a test for the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the primary cause of cervical cancer.
We may also conduct a test called colposcopy, which allows us to take a closer look at your cervix. If we do see abnormal cells, we can remove them by conducting a biopsy during this test. If the lab finds cancerous cells, we may then refer you to an oncologist.
5. Pap smears catch cancer in time
There’s no downside to a Pap smear: It’s a simple, fast test that may not even cost you a penny. Because it identifies cancerous changes before a tumor has a chance to grow, it just may save your life.
To schedule your well-woman exam and Pap smear, feel free to contact us via phone or online form today.