The Papanicolaou test (Pap smear), which first gained recognition in the 1940s as an effective screening test for cervical cancer, is now widely acclaimed and routinely performed as part of a woman’s regular gynecologic care. There is no doubt that the widespread use of Pap smear testing has led to a significant decrease in cervical cancer deaths over the past 40 years.
During a Pap smear, which is performed in a physician’s office, the physician will use a swab to obtain cells from the cervix. The specimen is then forwarded to the lab for evaluation by cytotechnologists and, in certain situations, pathologists.
Pap smears identify pre-cancerous and cancerous cells on the cervix. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend women ages 21-30 be screened for cervical cancer every 2 years. Once a woman reaches age 30 until she is age 65, it is recommended that she undergo screening by means of a Pap smear every 3 years so long as prior exams do not reveal any abnormalities. After age 65, additional Pap smear screening is not recommended for women who have had prior adequate screening and are not at high risk for developing cervical cancer.
In the event of an abnormal Pap smear, follow-up examination and/or treatment is required. Depending upon the nature of the abnormality, the follow-up examination and/or treatment can include a follow-up Pap smear, a colposcopy (a scope that is used to visually examine the cervix), loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), biopsy, endocervical scraping and/or a cone biopsy. The failure or delay in performing follow-up examination and/or treatment for an abnormal Pap smear can lead to a worsening prognosis.