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Cervical cancer rates have consistently dropped for decades thanks to routine Pap smears and early treatment of precancerous changes. But it’s essential to stay diligent about getting your routine Pap smears because the human papillomavirus — the cause of cervical cancer — is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. The practitioners at Bella Women’s Care offer Pap smears and comprehensive follow-up care for positive tests. If it’s time for your Pap smear, call one of the offices in Phoenix or Mesa, Arizona, or schedule an appointment online.
A Pap smear screens for cervical cancer, a disease that’s caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV spreads during sexual contact with a person who’s infected with the virus.
Your body naturally clears up more than 90% of all HPV infections. But sometimes, the virus invades cells in your cervix where it causes abnormal cell growth. The affected cells become precancerous, then gradually develop into full-blown cervical cancer.
You won’t develop symptoms while you have an HPV infection or during the early stages of cervical cancer. After the cancer grows large enough, you may experience vaginal discharge, pain during intercourse, and abnormal bleeding.
Most women should get their first Pap smear at the age of 21, but the frequency of your screening depends on your overall risk for developing cervical cancer. The best way to protect your health is to talk with your Bella Women's Care provider about your risk factors and screening recommendations.
Women aged 21-29 who have a normal risk should get a Pap smear at least every three years. Between the ages of 30-65, you should be screened every 3-5 years, depending on whether you get a Pap smear alone or a Pap plus high-risk HPV testing.
During a Pap smear, your Bella Women's Care provider takes a small sample of cells from your cervix and sends them to a lab for evaluation. After looking at every cell in the sample under a microscope, the lab tech uses a standardized grading system to report your results.
When all the cells in the Pap smear are healthy and normal, you have a negative Pap test. A positive Pap means that your sample contained abnormal or unusual cells, called cervical dysplasia.
Your lab report notes the degree of dysplasia. For example, it may report that the cells contained minor abnormalities likely caused by HPV or that severe abnormalities were found that are likely to progress to cancer.
For mild changes, your provider may order a repeat Pap smear, but for moderate to severe changes, you’ll undergo a colposcopy. During a colposcopy, your provider uses a magnifying device to evaluate your cervix. If abnormal tissues or growths are identified, they’re removed and sent to the lab to determine whether they’re cancerous.
To schedule a Pap smear, use the online booking feature or call Bella Women’s Care.