Pap smears are a specific test, done to look for abnormal, or precancerous cells, on the cervix.
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus, which opens into the birth canal (vagina). A Pap Smear looks for changes in the cells of the cervix. These changes can be caused by infections, STIs or cervical cancer. A Pap Smear uses a small brush to take some cells from inside and outside of the cervix. A laboratory then checks the cells to see if they are healthy.
The American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends the first Pap Smear be done after turning 21 years old. After the age of 21, the Pap smear becomes a part of the annual pelvic exam.
What if My Pap Test is Abnormal?
If your test result comes back abnormal, don’t panic. An abnormal reading can occur for a number of reasons, most of which are very minor, such as infections or inflammation. An abnormal pap smear does not mean that you have or will ever have cervical cancer. The most common abnormality seen in the college population is changes consistent with an HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) infection. If you have an abnormal pap smear, you may be asked to schedule a procedure called a colposcopy.