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When is your next Pap test?

Author:Dr.Irena Mehandjiska Shumanska

According to the guidelines, women should begin getting pap smears within three years of the first time they have sexual intercourse or by age 21. What exactly is the Pap test, and why is it so important?
A Pap test, known as a pap smear, is a gynecological examination done to check the health of the cervix. The cervix is the opening to the womb. With a Pap test, a sample of the cervix cells is taken to be checked for certain types of human papillomavirus-HPV that can cause changes in the cells of the cervix and cause cervical cancer.

The virus can not live independently, and he needs to enter a cell to replicate and live. The human papillomavirus enters the cervix cells and can cause changes by living inside the cells.


How can HPV be transmitted, and what are the different types of HPV?

Transmission of HPV is mainly through sexual contact and skin to skin contact. Many people will get some HPV in their lives. There are nearly 60 types of HPV. Some varieties can be high-risk types and some low-risk types of the virus. High-risk HPV are HPV types 16,18,31,33,35 and 39, and HPV 6 and 11 are low-risk types that usually cause genital warts. Persistent infection with high-risk HPV type is responsible for only 5 % of all cancers worldwide. The majority of infections disappear within 12 to 18 months, with no apparent disease. 

What is the difference between the HPV test and the Pap test?

Besides the Pap test, the HPV test is performed to detect an HPV infection before any cell abnormalities have occurred. This test result comes back positive or negative, and a negative impact means that you don’t have a high-risk HPV that is linked with cervical cancer, and the positive result means that you have the high-risk type of the virus, but it doesn’t show if you have changed in the cells. The Pap test will show if the virus made a change in the cervix cells that can be precancerous or cervical cancer.

How is performed?

The Pap test or taking pap smear involves taking a sample of the person’s cervix using a brush like an instrument. After that, the sample is checked by a pathologist to see if there are any changes in the cervix's cells. The HPV test is also a test that requires a sample taken from the cervix and can tell us if the person has the virus or not.


When to go for a Pap test?

As mentioned previously, to prevent cervical cancer, all women should start with regular Pap tests within three years of the first time they have sexual intercourse or by age 21.

A routine check for Pap test should be done every three years when you are in your twenties, every five years when you are in your thirties if you had the Pap and HPV test together. If not, you need to do a Pap test every three years. If you are older than 65, you don’t need to do this kind of examination.

How to prevent HPV infection?

You can prevent the HPV infection by:

1. Using protection during sex- condoms, dental dam.

2. Getting the HPV vaccine.

Taking other precautions like:

  -test for HPV with your partner before you start being intimate.

  -avoid any unprotected skin to skin contact with the genital area.

  -talk with your doctor if you have questions about safety.


American Cancer Society. (2010). Detailed Guide: Cervical Cancer. Can cervical cancer be prevented? Retrieved August 8, 2011
"Pap and HPV Testing". 2014-09-15
“Pap Smear". Retrieved 2008-12-27