What is a Pap TestA 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.
How Is A Pap Test DoneThe 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.
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.