During a pap smear, your physician will collect and examine cells from your cervix, the opening to the uterus. This test is performed to screen for cervical cancer and other problems.
It's important to talk with your physician about when and how often you should have a pap smear. Experts base screening guidelines on your age and risk factors for cervical cancer.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), guidelines include:
A pap smear, along with a pelvic exam, is an important part of your routine health care; it can find abnormal cells that can lead to cancer. Your physician can find most cancers of the cervix early if you have regular pap smears and pelvic exams. Cancer of the cervix is more likely to be successfully treated if it is found early. In addition, the pap smear is useful for finding cancerous cells, and other cervical and vaginal problems such as precancerous cells and inflammation.
Your physician may use a pap smear to diagnose the following conditions:
Your physician may do a test for the human papilloma virus, HPV, at the same time as a pap smear. Infection with HPV is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer in women over age 30.