A Pap smear is a simple, standard test that screens for cervical cancer. It checks both for cancerous and precancerous cells growing on the cervix. The test is recommended to many women because it’s accurate. The test is called a “Pap smear” after the doctor who first demonstrated that it was a reliable way to screen women for cervical cancer, Dr. Georgios Papanikolaou.
If a Pap smear comes back abnormal, a medical provider may request additional HPV testing. This additional testing can further help identify whether the human papillomavirus (HPV) is present and what the risk of cervical cancer is.
HPV is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. HPV can cause changes in the cervix that lead to cancer, although it doesn’t always. A gynecologist can help determine a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer if she has HPV.
All sexually active women should see a medical provider for a Pap smear and, if necessary, additional HPV testing. Because HPV is so common, it’s important to be screened regularly. Women can talk with their provider to determine precisely how frequently they should have a Pap smear.
Women who aren’t sexually active may also want to have a Pap smear to ensure they aren’t at risk of cervical cancer and don’t have HPV. Some providers even include a Pap smear as a standard part of their gynecological exams for all women.
When deciding who to see for a Pap smear and possible additional HPV testing, women should look for an OB/GYN or gynecologist who is board-certified and a fellow of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. OB/GYNs and gynecologists specialize in health issues related to women’s reproductive systems and are highly qualified to administer Pap smears and test for HPV.
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