A Pap smear is a test that is used to determine if abnormal cells are located on the cervix. The presence of abnormal cells can mean several things including, the presence of an infection or STD as well as the possibility of cervical dysplasia or cancer of the cervix. The doctor uses a small tool that looks like a brush to take a gentle scraping of the surface of the cervix. The cell sample is then sent away to determine if any abnormal cells are present. If abnormal cells are present, the doctor will take another test to verify. If the second test comes back the same as the first, a biopsy may be taken or the doctor may choose to perform another type of test to remove the tissue that is affected.
It is recommended that women of child-bearing age should get a Pap smear at least once every 3 years when they have their annual exam performed unless she has a personal or family history of abnormal cells or uses an IUD for birth control. If a woman has had a hysterectomy, she may have also had her cervix removed as well. If that is the case, there is no need for a Pap smear, but the doctor may still want to do a yearly pelvic exam to make sure there are no other tissue abnormalities. Women who have had several Pap smears that have returned with positive results for abnormal cell growth may be asked to have Pap smears performed at least twice a year, especially if the abnormal cells return rather quickly.
The cervix is the located at the lowest part of the uterus and connects to the vagina. During childbirth, the cervix opens up or dilates, allowing the baby to pass through the birth canal. Cervical dysplasia occurs when the cells of the cervix undergo certain changes that make it possible for them to become cancerous. In the beginning of cervical dysplasia, the cells are not cancerous, nor are they dangerous in any way. If the condition is left untreated, that may change, however, and the cells that once were simply abnormal can morph into full blown cancer cells. Pap smears can catch these changes at the earliest stages allowing doctors to treat them before they become cancerous.
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