Womens Health

Pap Test

The Pap Test, also called a Pap smear, checks for changes in the cells of your cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens into the vagina (birth canal). The Pap test can tell if you have an infection, abnormal (unhealthy) cervical cells, or cervical cancer.

 

Why do I need a Pap test?

A Pap test can save your life. It can find the earliest signs of cervical cancer. If caught early, the chance of curing cervical cancer is very high. Pap tests also can find infections and abnormal cervical cells that can turn into cancer cells. Treatment can prevent most cases of cervical cancer from developing.

Getting regular Pap tests is the best thing you can do to prevent cervical cancer. In fact, regular Pap tests have led to a major decline in the number of cervical cancer cases and deaths.

 

Do all women need Pap tests?

It is important for all women to have Pap tests, along with pelvic exams, as part of their routine health care. You need a Pap test if you are 21 years or older.

Women who have gone through menopause (when a woman's periods stop) still need regular Pap tests. Women ages 65 and older can talk to their doctor about stopping after at least 3 normal Pap tests and no abnormal results in the last 10 years.

 

How often do I need to get a Pap test?

It depends on your age and health history. Talk with your doctor about what is best for you. Most women can follow these guidelines:

  • Starting at age 21, have a Pap test every 2 years.
  • If you are 30 years old and older and have had 3 normal Pap tests for 3 years in a row, talk to your doctor about spacing out Pap tests to every 3 years.
  • If you are over 65 years old, ask your doctor if you can stop having Pap tests.

Ask your doctor about more frequent testing if:

  • You have a weakened immune system because of organ transplant, chemotherapy, or steroid use
  • Your mother was exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant
  • You are HIV-positive

Women who are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are at a higher risk of cervical cancer and other cervical diseases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all HIV-positive women get an initial Pap test, and get re-tested 6 months later. If both Pap tests are normal, then these women can get yearly Pap tests in the future.

 

Who does not need regular Pap tests?

The only women who do not need regular Pap tests are:

  • Women over age 65 who have had 3 normal Pap tests and in a row and no abnormal test results in the last 10 years, and have been told by their doctors that they don't need to be tested anymore.
  • Women who do not have a cervix and are at low risk for cervical cancer. These women should speak to their doctor before stopping regular Pap tests.

 

I had a hysterectomy. Do I still need Pap tests?

It depends on the type of hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus) you had and your health history. Women who have had a hysterectomy should talk with their doctor about whether they need routine Pap tests.

Usually during a hysterectomy, the cervix is removed with the uterus. This is called a total hysterectomy. Women who have had a total hysterectomy for reasons other than cancer may not need regular Pap tests. Women who have had a total hysterectomy because of abnormal cells or cancer should be tested yearly for vaginal cancer until they have three normal test results. Women who have had only their uterus removed but still have a cervix need regular Pap tests. Even women who have had hysterectomies should see their doctors yearly for pelvic exams.

 

How can I reduce my chances of getting cervical cancer?

Aside from getting Pap tests, the best way to avoid cervical cancer is by steering clear of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a major cause of cervical cancer. HPV infection is also one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI). So, a woman boosts her chances of getting cervical cancer if she:

  • Starts having sex before age 18
  • Has many sex partners
  • Has sex partners who have other sex partners
  • Has or has had a STI

 

What should I know about human papillomaviruses (HPV)?

Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are a group of more than 100 different viruses.

  • About 40 types of HPV are spread during sex.
  • Some types of HPVs can cause cervical cancer when not treated.
  • HPV infection is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI).
  • About 75 percent of sexually active people will get HPV sometime in their life.
  • Most women with untreated HPV do not get cervical cancer.
  • Some HPVs cause genital warts but these HPVs do not cause cervical cancer.
  • Since HPV rarely causes symptoms, most people don't know they have the infection.

 

How would I know if I had human papillomavirus (HPV)?

Most women never know they have HPV. It usually stays hidden and doesn't cause symptoms like warts. When HPV doesn't go away on its own, it can cause changes in the cells of the cervix. Pap tests usually find these changes.

 

How do I prepare for a Pap test?

Many things can cause wrong test results by washing away or hiding abnormal cells of the cervix. So, doctors suggest that for 2 days before the test you avoid:

  • Douching
  • Using tampons
  • Using vaginal creams, suppositories, and medicines
  • Using vaginal deodorant sprays or powders
  • Having sex

 

Should I get a Pap test when I have my period?

No. Doctors suggest you schedule a Pap test when you do not have your period. The best time to be tested is 10 to 20 days after the first day of your last period.

 

How is a Pap test done?

Your doctor can do a Pap test during a pelvic exam. It is a simple and quick test. While you lie on an exam table, the doctor puts an instrument called a speculum into your vagina, opening it to see the cervix. She will then use a special stick or brush to take a few cells from inside and around the cervix. The cells are placed on a glass slide and sent to a lab for examination. While usually painless, a Pap test is uncomfortable for some women.

 

When will I get the results of my Pap test?

Usually it takes 3 weeks to get Pap test results. Most of the time, test results are normal. If the test shows that something might be wrong, your doctor will contact you to schedule more tests. There are many reasons for abnormal Pap test results. It usually does not mean you have cancer.

 

What do abnormal Pap test results mean?

It is scary to hear that your Pap test results are "abnormal." But abnormal Pap test results usually do not mean you have cancer. Most often there is a small problem with the cervix.

Some abnormal cells will turn into cancer. But most of the time, these unhealthy cells will go away on their own. By treating these unhealthy cells, almost all cases of cervical cancer can be prevented. If you have abnormal results, to talk with your doctor about what they mean.

 

My Pap test was "abnormal," what happens now?

There are many reasons for "abnormal" Pap test results. If results of the Pap test are unclear or show a small change in the cells of the cervix, your doctor will probably repeat the Pap test.

If the test finds more serious changes in the cells of the cervix, the doctor will suggest more powerful tests. Results of these tests will help your doctor decide on the best treatment. These include:

  • Colposcopy: The doctor uses a tool called a colposcope to see the cells of the vagina and cervix in detail.
  • Endocervical curettage: The doctor takes a sample of cells from the endocervical canal with a small spoon-shaped tool called a curette.
  • Biopsy: The doctor removes a small sample of cervical tissue. The sample is sent to a lab to be studied under a microscope.

The FDA recently approved the LUMA Cervical Imaging System. The doctor uses this device right after a colposcopy. This system can help doctors see areas on the cervix that are likely to contain precancerous cells. The doctor uses this device right after a colposcopy. This system shines a light on the cervix and looks at how different areas of the cervix respond to this light. It gives a score to tiny areas of the cervix. It then makes a color map that helps the doctor decide where to further test the tissue with a biopsy. The colors and patterns on the map help the doctor tell between healthy tissue and tissue that might be diseased.

 

My Pap test result was a "false positive." What does this mean?

Pap tests are not always 100 percent correct. False positive and false negative results can happen. This can be upsetting and confusing. A false positive Pap test is when a woman is told she has abnormal cervical cells, but the cells are really normal. If your doctor says your Pap results were a false positive, there is no problem. A false negative Pap test is when a woman is told her cells are normal, but in fact, there is a problem with the cervical cells that was missed. False negatives delay the discovery and treatment of unhealthy cells of the cervix. But, having regular Pap tests boosts your chances of finding any problems. If abnormal cells are missed at one time, they will probably be found on your next Pap test.

 

Mammogram

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray exam of the breasts to look for changes that are not normal. The results are recorded on x-ray film or directly into a computer for a doctor called a radiologist to examine.

A mammogram allows the doctor to have a closer look for changes in breast tissue that cannot be felt during a breast exam. It is used for women who have no breast complaints and for women who have breast symptoms, such as a change in the shape or size of a breast, a lump, nipple discharge, or pain. Breast changes occur in almost all women. In fact, most of these change.

 

How is a mammogram done?

You stand in front of a special x-ray machine. The person who takes the x-rays, called a radiologic technician, places your breasts, one at a time, between an x-ray plate and a plastic plate. These plates are attached to the x-ray machine and compress the breasts to flatten them. This spreads the breast tissue out to obtain a clearer picture. You will feel pressure on your breast for a few seconds. It may cause you some discomfort; you might feel squeezed or pinched. This feeling only lasts for a few seconds, and the flatter your breast, the better the picture. Most often, two pictures are taken of each breast — one from the side and one from above. A screening mammogram takes about 20 minutes from start to finish.

 

Are there different types of mammograms?

  • Screening mammograms are done for women who have no symptoms of breast cancer. It usually involves two x-rays of each breast. Screening mammograms can detect lumps or tumors that cannot be felt. They can also find microcalcifications (my-kro-kal-si-fi-KAY-shuns) or tiny deposits of calcium in the breast, which sometimes mean that breast cancer is present.
  • Diagnostic mammograms are used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other symptom or sign of breast cancer has been found. Signs of breast cancer may include pain, thickened skin on the breast, nipple discharge, or a change in breast size or shape. This type of mammogram also can be used to find out more about breast changes found on a screening mammogram, or to view breast tissue that is hard to see on a screening mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram takes longer than a screening mammogram because it involves more x-rays in order to obtain views of the breast from several angles. The technician can magnify a problem area to make a more detailed picture, which helps the doctor make a correct diagnosis.

A digital mammogram also uses x-rays to produce an image of the breast, but instead of storing the image directly on film, the image is stored directly on a computer. This allows the recorded image to be magnified for the doctor to take a closer look. Current research has not shown that digital images are better at showing cancer than x-ray film images in general. But, women with dense breasts who are pre- or perimenopausal, or who are younger than age 50, may benefit from having a digital rather than a film mammogram. Digital mammography may offer these benefits:

  • Long-distance consultations with other doctors may be easier because the images can be shared by computer.
  • Slight differences between normal and abnormal tissues may be more easily noted.
  • The number of follow-up tests needed may be fewer.
  • Fewer repeat images may be needed, reducing exposure to radiation.

 

How often should I get a mammogram?

The National Cancer Institute recommends:

  • Women 40 years and older should get a mammogram every 1 to 2 years.
  • Women who have had breast cancer or other breast problems or who have a family history of breast cancer might need to start getting mammograms before age 40, or they might need to get them more often. Talk to your doctor about when to start and how often you should have a mammogram.

 

What can mammograms show?

The radiologist will look at your x-rays for breast changes that do not look normal and for differences in each breast. He or she will compare your past mammograms with your most recent one to check for changes. The doctor will also look for lumps and calcifications.

  • Lump or mass. The size, shape, and edges of a lump sometimes can give doctors information about whether or not it may be cancer. On a mammogram, a growth that is benign often looks smooth and round with a clear, defined edge. Breast cancer often has a jagged outline and an irregular shape.
  • Calcification. A calcification is a deposit of the mineral calcium in the breast tissue. Calcifications appear as small white spots on a mammogram. There are two types:
  • Macrocalcifications are large calcium deposits often caused by aging. These usually are not a sign of cancer.
  • Microcalcifications are tiny specks of calcium that may be found in an area of rapidly dividing cells.

If calcifications are grouped together in a certain way, it may be a sign of cancer. Depending on how many calcium specks you have, how big they are, and what they look like, your doctor may suggest that you have other tests. Calcium in the diet does not create calcium deposits, or calcifications, in the breast.

 

What if my screening mammogram shows a problem?

If you have a screening test result that suggests cancer, your doctor must find out whether it is due to cancer or to some other cause. Your doctor may ask about your personal and family medical history. You may have a physical exam. Your doctor also may order some of these tests:

  • Diagnostic mammogram, to focus on a specific area of the breast
  • Ultrasound, an imaging test that uses sound waves to create a picture of your breast. The pictures may show whether a lump is solid or filled with fluid. A cyst is a fluid-filled sac. Cysts are not cancer. But a solid mass may be cancer. After the test, your doctor can store the pictures on video or print them out. This exam may be used along with a mammogram.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses a powerful magnet linked to a computer. MRI makes detailed pictures of breast tissue. Your doctor can view these pictures on a monitor or print them on film. MRI may be used along with a mammogram.
  • Biopsy, a test in which fluid or tissue is removed from your breast to help find out if there is cancer. Your doctor may refer you to a surgeon or to a doctor who is an expert in breast disease for a biopsy.

 

What if I have breast implants?

Women with breast implants should also have mammograms. A woman who had an implant after breast cancer surgery in which the entire breast was removed (mastectomy) should ask her doctor whether she needs a mammogram of the reconstructed breast.

If you have breast implants, be sure to tell your mammography facility that you have them when you make your appointment. The technician and radiologist must be experienced in x-raying patients with breast implants. Implants can hide some breast tissue, making it harder for the radiologist to see a problem when looking at your mammogram. To see as much breast tissue as possible, the x-ray technician will gently lift the breast tissue slightly away from the implant and take extra pictures of the breasts.

 

How do I get ready for my mammogram?

First, check with the place you are having the mammogram for any special instructions you may need to follow before you go. Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • If you are still having menstrual periods, try to avoid making your mammogram appointment during the week before your period. Your breasts will be less tender and swollen. The mammogram will hurt less and the picture will be better.
  • If you have breast implants, be sure to tell your mammography facility that you have them when you make your appointment.
  • Wear a shirt with shorts, pants, or a skirt. This way, you can undress from the waist up and leave your shorts, pants, or skirt on when you get your mammogram.
  • Don't wear any deodorant, perfume, lotion, or powder under your arms or on your breasts on the day of your mammogram appointment. These things can make shadows show up on your mammogram.
  • If you have had mammograms at another facility, have those x-ray films sent to the new facility so that they can be compared to the new films.

 

Are there any problems with mammograms?

Although they are not perfect, mammograms are the best method to find breast changes that cannot be felt. If your mammogram shows a breast change, sometimes other tests are needed to better understand it. Even if the doctor sees something on the mammogram, it does not mean it is cancer.

As with any medical test, mammograms have limits. These limits include:

  • They are only part of a complete breast exam. Your doctor also should do a clinical breast exam. If your mammogram finds something abnormal, your doctor will order other tests.
  • Finding cancer does not always mean saving lives. Even though mammography can detect tumors that cannot be felt, finding a small tumor does not always mean that a woman’s life will be saved. Mammography may not help a woman with a fast growing cancer that has already spread to other parts of her body before being found.
  • False negatives can happen. This means everything may look normal, but cancer is actually present. False negatives don't happen often. Younger women are more likely to have a false negative mammogram than are older women. The dense breasts of younger women make breast cancers harder to find in mammograms.
  • False positives can happen. This is when the mammogram results look like cancer is present, even though it is not. False positives are more common in younger women, women who have had breast biopsies, women with a family history of breast cancer, and women who are taking estrogen, such as menopausal hormone therapy.
  • Mammograms (as well as dental x-rays and other routine x-rays) use very small doses of radiation. The risk of any harm is very slight, but repeated x-rays could cause cancer. The benefits nearly always outweigh the risk. Talk to your doctor about the need for each x-ray. Ask about shielding to protect parts of the body that are not in the picture. You should always let your doctor and the technician know if there is any chance that you are pregnant.

 

What is the best method of detecting breast cancer as early as possible?

A high-quality mammogram plus a clinical breast exam, an exam done by your doctor, is the most effective way to detect breast cancer early. Finding breast cancer early greatly improves a woman's chances for successful treatment.

Like any test, mammograms have both benefits and limitations. For example, some cancers can't be found by a mammogram, but they may be found in a clinical breast exam.

Checking your own breasts for lumps or other changes is called a breast self-exam (BSE). Studies so far have not shown that BSE alone helps reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer. BSE should not take the place of routine clinical breast exams and mammograms.

If you choose to do BSE, remember that breast changes can occur because of pregnancy, aging, menopause, menstrual cycles, or from taking birth control pills or other hormones. It is normal for breasts to feel a little lumpy and uneven. Also, it is common for breasts to be swollen and tender right before or during a menstrual period. If you notice any unusual changes in your breasts, contact your doctor.

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345-945-7077