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Understanding PAP Tests

An Essential Part Of HIV Care


Updated November 01, 2007

Pap tests are important for all women. For HIV positive women, the importance of annual pap tests can't be overstated. Understanding PAP tests and why they are necessary should be a part of all HIV education. Women must understand the importance of the pap test as an essential part of preventative care for the HIV infected woman.

Things You Should Be Doing To Stay Healthy

What is a Pap Test

A PAP test, sometimes call a Pap smear is a method of examining cells collected from a women's cervix. The cervix is the lowest end of the uterus located where the vagina and uterus come together. The Pap test is done by a physician to screen a woman for the presence of abnormal cells or HPV in the vagina and cervix. Done yearly, this test has proven to be very valuable in identifying abnormal cell growth before it has a chance to become cancerous and more invasive.

Understanding HPV

How Is A Pap Test Done

The Pap test is done as part of a normal pelvic exam. A small sample of cells is collected from the vaginal walls and the cervix using a soft swab. These cells are then prepared in a special solution and examined under a microscope by people specially trained to read PAP tests. Most often the cells are normal and nothing further needs to be done. Another Pap test will be performed in one year. However, some tests will indicate that the cells collected have undergone some abnormal change that may indicate cancer or a precursor of cancer. An abnormal exam can fall in several categories:

  • Mild, moderate, or severe dysplasia - The cells have undergone some abnormal changes but the changes are not cancerous. However, these cells can become cancerous over time if left untreated.

  • Squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL) - These are abnormal cells that lie just on the surface of the vagina or cervix. These can range from mild to severe abnormal changes and can indicate cancerous growth.

  • Cervical intraepithelial neoplasm (CIN) - This is another way to describe abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix. Again, the cells with the most severe abnormalities can be cancerous.

  • Carcinoma in-situ - This describes cancerous cells that only affect the surface layers. Left untreated, these cells can migrate to deeper layers, causing cervical cancer.

Preventing Cervical Cancer With The HPV Vaccine

Again, it can't be stressed enough the importance of a yearly PAP exam for all women of child bearing age. For women living with HIV, the importance is even greater. Talk to your doctor about scheduling your PAP exam.

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