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What’s the HAP with the PAP?!

The time of year has come, you double-check the calendar – once, twice, thrice. You make up a few excuses in your head, and you consider rescheduling (BUT YOU DON’T!). Yes, the time has come for your old frenemy, the Pap smear. To those responsible for giving things terrible names, we salute you. 

Whether we have modesty concerns, feeling vulnerable and exposed, fear of discomfort or pain, fear of bad news, it’s just all around not the most fun part of our year (or three years to be more exact, but we will talk about that later). I will echo my parents’ parenting by saying, sometimes in life; we have to suck it up and do hard things when it’s essential. And listen up, my friends, this IS important. Let’s break it down a little and see if we can dispel some nerves and promote the Pap’s many merits. 

Why do we need Pap smears? Is it necessary? The answer to that question is a resounding YES! According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer is the 4th most common cause of cancer in women. According to the American Cancer Society, it also used to be one of the most common causes of cancer death, but those rates have significantly dropped thanks to the Pap smear. 

One might ask, what is the origin of cervical cancer? Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus, is super common, and is also the cause of cervical cancer 99% of the time (WHO). For many women, HPV, if acquired, will resolve spontaneously, and persistent infection can lead to cervical cancer. When you get a Pap smear, we sample your cervical cells to ensure no abnormalities. A SOFT bristled brush is used to collect the sample, not a scalpel. This sample allows us to find changes in the cervix before cancer even has a chance to develop! Amazing! And if it has developed, we can usually catch it while it is small and much easier to treat. So give a clap for the Pap! Although the clap is a topic for another discussion, so maybe just a round of applause? What’s a cervical discussion without a little sense of humor?

Let’s end with a few guidelines on the when: Happy 21st birthday to you! A world of possibilities just opened up as well as your first Pap smear! Starting at 21 years old and then every three years after (as long as everything comes back normal), you need a Pap smear. Once you turn 30, there is additional testing that can change the frequency to every five years. These recommendations continue until about age 65. Not too bad, right? It used to be annual if that makes you feel any better.

While Pap day maybe isn’t everyone’s favorite day, I hope you can see why it is necessary. Not every cancer is this easy to screen for or prevent, and a Pap smear isn’t that bad. Whatever might be stopping you, it’s time to decide if the risk is worth it. And while some women may be completely comfortable with a male provider performing their Pap smear (remember they do it all the time), if that’s what’s holding you back, remember there are plenty of female providers out there like me. You need to ask for one. Come on in, ladies. Deep breaths. You got this. 

The Dreaded Pap Smear – Why It’s Important.

There are fewer preventative visits a woman detests more than the dreaded Pap smear (a close second is most likely a mammogram, and third would likely be that “puff of air” into your eyes). So, you are in good company when you groan after remembering today is “that wellness visit.” With that said, let’s discuss why we put you through this emotional and physical discomfort.

First, we want to catch any concerns early. Generally, it is easier to treat illness in the early stages, instead of waiting until it is widespread. Some of you may remember when it was recommended that we did annual Pap smears. If you remember those, you are probably wondering if my previous statement is contradictory to our screenings. Surprisingly, it is not. When we did yearly Pap smears, we found we did a lot of unnecessary testing for false positives. (That means you test positive for something concerning, but upon further examination, we find out it was nothing.) Sometimes the body can clear abnormal cells and viruses when given time, hence the birth of our newer guidelines.

Now, what are we looking for with Pap smears? Besides being able to literally look for any abnormalities, we take samples of cells from the cervix looking for two major things. First, abnormal cells (aka cancer). Like I said, some cells we just monitor. With these results, we may do nothing. We may choose to repeat the test in one year to monitor if the body has cleared these out without intervention, or we may need to do further testing. Your provider will be able to explain why they go in one direction or the other. Second, we are also looking for HPV (Human Papillomavirus). HPV has several different strains, but there are some linked to cervical cancer. If you test positive for high-risk HPV, most likely, we will encourage further testing. Again, let’s catch and treat it early.

Finally, what are the guidelines? For normal Pap smears, women between 21-30 years old are recommended to have a Pap smear every three years, despite what age they became sexually active. For women who are in a committed, monogamous relationship, and have low-risk factors, we recommend a Pap smear every three to five years.  For those 30-65, we recommend having a PAP/HPV test every five years. 

Just remember, every woman dreads “Pap Smear Day.” However, no one ever regrets catching and treating problems early.

What is a Pap?

Would you rather have to jump off a cliff or have a tooth pulled than have a Pap Smear? For some women, a Pap Smear can be a fearful experience. Kristen Wright, FNP at Canyon View Women’s Care helps take the mystery out of Pap Smears and tells why they are so important to helping to keep women healthy. Click the link to watch her video.

Haley Pledger, PA
Women’s Care
Matthew Walton, DO
Austin Bills, DO
Family Medicine
Aaron Fausett, PA
Family Medicine
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