When most women hear the words, "Pap smear," a chill goes down their spines. The fact is that many women have come to dread making that appointment with their gynecologist for their annual checkup: they are freaked out about having that Pap smear. The unfortunate result of this fearfulness is the tendency to procrastinate and—trust us here—this is not an area in which you want to procrastinate. Having that annual Pap smear may just save your life.
Besides, it's not that bad. It may seem a bit invasive, but it shouldn't be painful. Considering that Pap smears save lives, a bit of embarrassment or discomfort seems a small price to pay. Reading our articles on the ins and outs of the Pap smear procedure should serve to reassure you, so you won't be so frightened the next time around.
The word "Pap" in Pap smear is abbreviated from Papanicolaou, the surname of the man who developed this test, George Papanicolaou. The Pap smear serves to evaluate the state of your cervix, or the neck of the uterus, which is located at the top of the vaginal canal.
The Pap smear is an uncomplicated procedure that is used to screen 55 million women in the U.S. alone, each year. This simple test seeks to identify abnormal cells lining the cervix, which may indicate a risk for cancer of the cervix. Having this test once a year means that cancer of the cervix may be detected in its earliest stages, before it can progress beyond the point where treatment might still be effective.
Early detection means a huge increase in a woman's chances for recovery from cervical cancer. The Pap smear was first introduced during the 1940's. Since that time, the rate of deaths due to cervical cancer has been reduced by over 70%. Pap smears can also detect infections such as HIV not to mention those all-too-common vaginal yeast infections.
The current recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that women should have a first pap smear at the age of 21 or within three years of becoming sexually active; whichever comes first. But the most important thing to do in regard to the Pap smear is to have one every single year without fail. If you should have a positive result for the presence of abnormal cells, your physician will want you to repeat the test every six months instead of once a year. Menopause does not end the need for Pap smears.