A pap smear is a test used to detect abnormal or cancerous cells on the cervix. Cells can simply be abnormal or they can range from pre-cancerous to cancerous. A doctor is able to determine at what stage the condition has progressed to by looking at a sample of the cells under a microscope. The cells are retrieved from the cervix with a tool that scrapes the surface, bringing with it several of the cells. There are several treatment options available to women who test positive for abnormal cells. Many times, this does not mean cancer. It can indicate an infection or other potential health problem.
A pap smear gathers scrapings of cells from the surface of the cervix. The majority of cells will prove to be normal. A certain percentage, however, will come back abnormal. This can be because of an infection or hormonal imbalance. It can also be due to abnormalities that are the result of pre-cancerous cells. This is known as cervical dysplasia. If it is caught in its earliest stages, it can be treated without major surgery. If left untreated, cancer can continue to advance and eventually spread to other areas of the body. Doctors normally encourage their patients to get one pap smear a year.
Women should get a Pap Smear at least once a year when they receive their annual gynecological exam. Doctors may recommend having a Pap Smear performed twice a year if the patient has had cervical dysplasia or a prior test that showed abnormal cervical cells. Many conditions that affect the cervix are known to progress rather quickly. Getting checked twice a year for the first two or three years after a positive test will help to catch the condition in its earliest stages and reduce the risk of cervical or other forms of cancer associated with the genital area.
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