Pap tests Overview
Sometimes called a Pap smear, the Pap test is a common procedure physicians use to test for cervical cancer in women. The Pap test is an important part of regular women’s health visits because it can help with early detection of cervical cancer. Detecting cervical cancer early increases the likelihood of effectively treating it. Pap tests can also detect changes in cervical cells due to certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Detecting these abnormal cells early may prevent the development of cancer down the line.
While many women believe they need to see a gynecologist or OB/GYN for women’s health issues and services like the Pap test, One Medical’s primary care providers are trained to handle most women’s health matters. In addition to diagnosing and treating yeast infections, urinary tract infections, sexual health, and more, our doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants can often administer a Pap test as part of a regular visit and help guide any decisions or treatment plans that arise around women’s health issues. In fact, having a primary care provider (PCP) perform the Pap test can be a big benefit because they already have in-depth knowledge of your overall health and history. Additionally, receiving women’s health services like Pap tests from a PCP can cut down medical costs and reduce the need for specialist copays.
The Pap test itself is simple and quick and can be performed in a few minutes during a One Medical appointment. During the test, an instrument called a speculum is gently inserted into the vagina to expose the cervix. This can cause a feeling of slight pressure in the pelvic area, but is usually not painful. Then, a One Medical provider takes samples of the cervical cells using a soft brush and a flat scraping device called a spatula. The cells are then sent to a laboratory and examined. Providers then follow up with each patient after the appointment to discuss the results and address any additional steps that may be necessary.
Experts recommend Pap tests for all women ages 21 and over, but according to the current screening guidelines, for most people, Pap tests do not need to be performed annually. Instead, women between the ages of 21 and 29 should receive them every three years and women between the ages of 30 and 65 should receive them every five years. The reason for this change with age is because women age 30 and over can have their Pap test combined with testing for HPV or discuss the option of HPV testing instead of the Pap test. Women over 65 who have had consistently normal Pap test results over the years can opt to stop getting the Pap test due the extremely low chance of developing cervical cancer at an older age.