For a healthy life, your health should always come first, including your reproductive well being. Making a checkup appointment with your gynecologist can help pick up on any underlying issues that may affect your health significantly. Among the numerous tests, you can undergo during your checkup with a gynecologist is a pap smear. We advise women in all age groups to undertake the pap smear test to make sure that there is early detection of any abnormalities with your cervical and uterine health so that we can prevent complicated health conditions from arising.
The All Women's Care OB-GYN clinic is one of the best centers in Los Angeles, California, to visit for any gynecological services you need. We comprise a competent team of medical doctors specializing in obstetrician and gynecological procedures for all our patients. Over the years, we have conducted numerous pap smear tests on different women successfully and initiated prompt treatment for any conditions we detected after analyzing the samples from the test. With our wealth of healthcare experience, you can trust us to deliver excellent and professional gynecological services for your well being.
What is a Pap Smear
The pap smear test is a medical procedure carried out on any person with a cervix and a uterus, to check for any abnormal cells forming around the cervix. Moreover, the pap smear test works to collect cervical cell samples, for a careful analysis of any future development of severe conditions like cervical cancer, among others caused by the presence of abnormal cells in the cervix.
Doctors use two main types of pap smears to run their tests, with each providing a different way of preserving the cell samples collected from your cervix. Thus, you can have a conventional test, where your samples are transferred to a glass plate for storage and cellular analysis. Alternatively, you can undergo the liquid-based test, where your cell samples are stored in a particular solution. A pathologist prepares to perform several inspections on them for conclusive results. Regardless of the difference in the collected samples' storage, you will undergo more or less the same procedure during the pap smear. Thus, you do not need to worry about experiencing a different sensation, in case you have tried either of the tests before.
The accuracy of pap smear tests is quite high, and it is a trusted medical procedure that exhibits credible results to determine whether your cervix is in good health. On average, you can expect an accuracy of over 80%, with trusted data to back up the findings that your doctor makes. As a result, you can use the information you receive to determine the next step to take in maintaining your reproductive health.
The Importance of Taking a Pap Smear Test
Undoubtedly, deciding to take a test is highly beneficial to you, as you get a deeper understanding of your cervical health, which affects your entire reproductive system. The most significant importance of taking the pap smear test is establishing if any cancerous cells can put you in danger of suffering from cervical cancer. A lot of patients can prevent advanced cancer stages thanks to taking regular pap smear tests. This way, the results you obtain after the procedure can help your gynecologist depict any cells that are a threat to your cervical health.
On top of the detection of cancerous cells, a pap smear goes a long way in eradicating the potential spread of other dangerous viruses, like the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) that attacks the vagina and cervix area. It may also result in the growth of cancerous cells. We often recommend our patients aged thirty and above to take both the pap smear and HPV test simultaneously. Each test provides useful information that may give leads to any underlying condition.
Besides this, Pap smears are very helpful in running checks for any risk factors that cause severe infections and life long diseases. Thus, taking the test helps in following up on the effects of conditions like:
When a patient tests positive for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, numerous changes occur in the body, with some affecting the cell formation in the cervix and uterine walls. Moreover, HIV brings about countless subsequent infections that can quickly attack your reproductive system because the virus weakens your immune system. Thus, apart from taking a Pap smear to check for cancerous cells, the test helps ensure that your vagina and cervix remain healthy as you continue to take medication.
If you are a patient who had already tested positive for cancerous cervical cells that later developed into full-stage cancer, you need to ensure that your recovery is progressive to prevent the cancerous cells from growing again. In such a situation, the recovering patient will undergo more tests than an average person seeking to make regular checkups, to ensure that each Pap smear reveals a significant reduction in the abnormal cells that caused cervical cancer.
Weak Immune System
Some of our patients have severe pre-existing health conditions that compromise their immune systems, allowing all types of abnormal cells to attack their cervical tissue. A weak immune system may arise from diseases like HIV or intense chemotherapy sessions. Other times, it is a genetic trait that carries on in a family generation. If you are in such a position, it is advisable to schedule a Pap smear with your gynecologist to ensure that no abnormal cells occupy your cervical area, resulting in complications.
Lastly, we believe that it is essential to have peace of mind, especially when it comes to your health. Knowing how you are doing healthwise a significant step to avoid preventable complications, but it is also beneficial for your mental health. Thus, to reduce anxiety levels caused by the fear of inadequate information, we recommend taking a pap smear test to reassure yourself of a continued state of well-being.
Eligibility for Taking a Pap Smear
We often receive inquiries concerning who can take the pap smear test, especially with age in mind. The standard recommendation is that you should be at least twenty-one years old to have your first test. The set age of twenty-one is ideal for you because you will have undergone full cervical development, which is a requirement for us to make a comprehensive analysis of your cell samples. Once you have had your first test, we will schedule regular appointments every two and a half to three years to confirm that you have progressive cervical health.
However, the set age is not a restriction for anyone younger than twenty- one who would like to take the test, especially if you suspect that you could be prone to infections that may interfere with your vagina and cervix. Thus, anyone who has had previous health conditions that affected their reproductive system should not hesitate to come in for a checkup.
Additionally, you can also have a pap smear test if you are a virgin, meaning you have not yet had penetrative sex. While the risk of having any abnormal cervical cells is relatively low at this stage, it does not harm the test done, especially if you have already turned twenty-one years.
On the other hand, you can stop your scheduled pap smear appointments when you turn sixty-five if there has been no abnormal cell growth detected in the past. At this age, it is safe to make a medical assumption that you face no possible health risks related to cervical cancer, especially if you have made consistent checkups in the past.
Another group of patients who can forego their Pap smear checkups is those who have had hysterectomies performed. A hysterectomy procedure involves removing your uterus from your body, including the cervical tissue. Therefore, it is irrelevant to undertake a Pap smear if you do not have a uterus and cervix because the doctor lacks a source of cell samples. Also, you are at no risk of contracting cervical cancer after undergoing a hysterectomy.
Preparing for Your Pap Smear Appointment
Once you decide to undertake your test, there are several steps you must take to ensure that the procedure follows through successfully. Failing to follow these regulations may cause inaccurate results after the test because of different factors that alter your usual cervical cell presentation. Here is what to do a few days before coming in for the Pap smear test:
Keep Track of Your Period to Avoid Menstruating on the Day of the Test
On average, tests carried out on women who are not on their period are more accurate than those taken during this time. The leading cause of the difference in test accuracies is that your cervix changes as it prepares to open up during your period. As a result, your cellular composition may be different, resulting in inaccurate test results. Therefore, we recommend tracking your period to ensure that you avoid checkups during your menstruating period. Hence, your gynecologist may have to reschedule the procedure if you come in on your period in the interest of accurate findings.
Avoid Sexual Intercourse Two Days Before Your Appointment
If you are sexually active, you may have to lay off your partner for a day or two before the pap smear test to promote accurate test results. The logic behind this is that your partner's sperm cells will interfere with the general pH level of the vagina and may cause thickening of the cervical mucus, especially if the sperm cells manage to fertilize an egg. Consequently, collecting cervix cells is hindered by the thick mucous layer around the cervix, causing a small collection of cells.
Schedule a Pap Smear Within Six Months of Pregnancy
Pregnant women who would like to undertake the test should be aware of the time limit available. Typically, you can take the test within the first two pregnancy trimesters because your cervix is not as sensitive. Waiting to get the test during the third trimester may be a painful experience because the cervical tissues are more tender and susceptible to pain than before.
Avoid Douches and Vaginal Creams Two Days Before the Test
Of the reproductive care products, you may affect the natural occurrence of your cervical cells. Thus, you may administer a vaginal cream or medicine to your internal vaginal walls, and interfere with your cervix. The result is an irregular count of cervical cells during the pap smear because the present chemicals often interfere with the cells on the cervical tissue. Moreover, we also discourage spermicides' use as a form of birth control days before your appointment for the same reason. The composition of the spermicides can alter the cervix in different ways, and even cause inflammation.
Stay Calm Moments Before the Test
While many people overlook this tip, it is crucial that you stay calm and take deep breaths as we prepare to begin the procedure because it eases the discomfort felt as we open up your vaginal walls. If you are nervous, you may be unable to stay out of fear, and may also tense up your pelvic muscles, increasing the discomfort felt. You should always remember that we have your best interests in mind and that the procedure is not as uncomfortable as you may imagine.
Performing the Pap Smear Test
Usually, taking the test involves a concise process that only takes a few minutes. Within this short period, your gynecologist can ask some questions that cover your medical history, especially if it is your first time coming in for the test. Thus, you can expect questions involving any treated reproductive health conditions like endometriosis, removal of fibroids, or even treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Your gynecologist also needs to know if you are sexually active so that you can receive further guidance accordingly.
After filling in all required fields in the medical history form, you will then have to change into a medical gown to give your doctor easy access to the vaginal opening. You will have the option of fully undressing and wearing the patient's gown, or partially removing your garments from the waist down.
Afterward, you will lie on the observation seat in a slanted position that puts you on your back. The declined sitting design is essential in putting you in the most comfortable resting position, to reduce the pressure you feel on your pelvis as your doctor takes the subsequent steps. Additionally, your knees will be bent and heels supported on a stirrup to enhance your comfort levels and give the gynecologist an open workspace. It is important to remember that the sitting position is adjustable to your liking, so you can make suggestions to your doctor to change the sitting position if you are not comfortable enough.
Once you are in a fixed position, the gynecologist will use a speculum to open up the vaginal walls. The insertion of the instrument should be painless and should not cause friction. Once it is safely inside the vagina, the speculum dilates at the doctor's adjustment to stretch the vaginal walls open, to give the doctor a clear view of the cervix.
During the dilation with a speculum, you may experience slight pressure and discomfort, especially around your pelvis. However, you should not feel excruciating pain because the vagina walls are built to be elastic. Your gynecologist will engage you and ask for your feedback in case you are unable to persevere the pain, at which he/she should retract the speculum. However, such occurrences are rare and mostly relate to wear and tear caused by friction on the vaginal walls.
After the insertion of the speculum to open up the vagina, your doctor then inserts a soft brush that combines a spatula-like structure and a swab. The instrument is called a cytobrush, and it works to scrape cells off the cervix. The gynecologist used gentle pressure to scour the cervix's lining for the cell samples, and you should, therefore, not experience any pain. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to feel slightly irritated while the doctor collects the samples. After this, the doctor removes the soft brush and the speculum, concluding the test's performance.
Following the conclusion of the Pap smear test procedure, you may continue with your daily activities normally. Some women experience light spotting afterward, which is not a cause for alarm. Typically, the spotting should recede on its own after a few hours. However, if it persists days after the Pap smear, do not hesitate to contact your doctor for a checkup to determine whether there was some trauma caused on the cervix and cell tissues. Moreover, you are prone to experiencing mild to moderate cramping because of the discomfort on the cervix after the test. Although the pain should end a few hours afterward, we recommend taking over the counter painkillers if it interferes with your routine activities.
Pap Smear Results
A few days after your test, your doctor will contact you with your results ready. It is highly recommended that you collect the information in person at the clinic instead of receiving the test results through emails so that your gynecologist can provide a comprehensive explanation of what the readings reveal. Going in, you should expect either a positive or a negative result.
Testing positive after a Pap smear indicates that there are some abnormal cells in your cervix. However, the results should not raise the alarm because they don't always mean that the atypical cells are cancerous. On the contrary, the abnormal cells may be in insignificant numbers with no known health risk to you. Despite this, the positive results are also likely to indicate the presence of cells that lead to cervical cancer. Some of the unusual discoverable cells after a pap smear are:
Squamous Cancer Cells
If your gynecologist detects Squamous Cancer cells in your samples, it could mean that you face a high risk of developing cancerous growths in your cervix and vaginal walls. The results warrant an immediate further analysis of the cervical cell samples available to ensure that the Squamous cells have not spread too far onto the vaginal walls or the entire cervical tissue. After detecting such cells, your doctor will give you follow up instructions that will include several cervical checkups to ensure that the Squamous cells are not widely spread.
Atypical Glandular Cells
Usually, glandular cells occur naturally in the cervix and vagina and have no relation to developing cervical cancer. However, if abnormally formed, it could be an indication of an underlying medical condition that may not necessarily lead to cancer. Nevertheless, your doctor may ask for further analysis of the Atypical Glandular cells by ordering more tests on you to ensure that the cells do not develop into a more severe condition.
Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion
Just like Squamous Cancer cells, the Squamous Intraepithelial Lesions pose a high exposure risk to cervical cancer. When they cause low-grade cervical cancer, they make slow cellular changes, leading to a long duration before detecting any cervical cancer development. However, if they appear in high-grade cancer, they pose a higher risk of cervical cancer development. As a result, you will suffer the effects of high-grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesions more significantly because the effects spread fast.
Testing negative for any abnormal cells in your cervix is good because it means you do not have to think about starting any treatment. However, there are cases of false results that indicate an absence of irregular cells while they exist in your cervix. The false-negative results are inaccuracies caused by limiting factors like:
- Inflammation on the cervix, preventing the doctor from coming into contact with the detectable irregular cells
- Collection of inadequate cervical cell samples during the Pap smear
- Presence of small numbers of the irregular cells caused by slow cell division
As a result, we recommend following the scheduled appointments your gynecologist provides even after a negative result to ensure that you take future Pap smear tests to assert that you are free from abnormal cells.
The Cost of Pap Smears In California
The average cost of the procedure ranges between $20 to $50, but may greatly vary depending on any preparatory medical procedures you need to take. Therefore, the cost may shoot up to $600 if there is a need to undertake any other tests related to the Pap smear. Your medical insurance coverage should cover for the expenses you incur or provide a comprehensive payment plan by covering up to half the cost.
Contact a Gynecology Clinic Near Me
We believe in empowering our patients by providing all the information you need to learn about your cervical health. At All Women's Care, we provide the best services to all our clients looking to receive Pap smears. Moreover, you will receive highly informative details regarding your case, on top of receiving prompt follow up treatment in case of a positive result. If you would like to schedule a Pap smear appointment with us, give us a call at 213-250-9461.