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The Pap Test: Your First Line of Defense

It’s easy to skip routine checkups when you feel fine. Life gets busy, and you may feel like it’s no big deal to put off a screening. 

But the truth is that preventive health screenings play a vital role in keeping you healthy by detecting potential problems at the early stages. The same is true for the Pap test.

Monique Petteys, FNP-C and the team at The Women’s Center at Life Point Medical are devoted to supporting women throughout all phases of life. Routine Pap smear tests are part of keeping you healthy. Not only is a Pap test effective at detecting cervical cancer at the earliest stages, but it also detects abnormal changes that may later become cancer. 

In this blog, our experts discuss the importance of Pap tests and why you shouldn't skip yours. 

What is a Pap smear?

It may surprise you to know that cervical cancer was once the leading cause of cancer-related death for women in the United States. 

Thanks in part to routine Pap screenings, that’s no longer the case. As women began getting regular Pap smears, deaths from cervical cancer declined sharply. 

It’s recommended that you get regular Pap smears every three years starting at age 21. You may need to screen more frequently if you’re at an increased risk for cervical cancer. 

During a Pap screening, your provider gently scrapes cells from the opening of your cervix to examine further under a microscope. The sample is sent to a laboratory, and your provider contacts you with the results. 

If your Pap smear comes back positive, that means the test revealed abnormal cells. If you receive a positive Pap result, don’t panic. It’s important to know that positive Pap tests are common and they don't necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. Positive Pap tests can result from:

Women should find some comfort in knowing that most abnormal Pap tests are the result of infection rather than cervical cancer. 

What do my Pap smear results mean?

Here are some Pap test results and what they mean. 

Negative for intraepithelial lesions and malignancy (NILM)

A negative Pap smear means the pathologist found no abnormal changes to your cervical cells.

Atypical Squamous Cells, can’t rule out high grade abnormalities (ASC-H)

This is an unclear result where there may be some abnormal changes to cervical cells. Further evaluation will provide answers. 

Low-grade intraepithelial lesion (LSIL)

The test showed mild abnormal changes. Your provider may recommend a procedure called a colposcopy to make sure the changes are indeed mild and nothing serious.

High-grade intraepithelial lesion (HSIL)

High-grade changes require further evaluation with a colposcopy, but this does not mean you have cervical cancer. 

Cervical cancer cells present

Though uncommon, this means the pathologist detected cervical cancer cells present. Your provider will discuss the next steps and help you get in to see the right specialist.

Pap smears save lives

Getting into the practice of having regular Pap smears is the best way to stay proactive about your health. Getting regular Pap smears can lower your risk of dying from cervical cancer.

To schedule a routine Pap smear and for all other women’s wellness needs, contact our Clayton, Georgia, office to schedule a visit with Monique Petteys. You can call us at 706-250-7306 or request an appointment online. We’re here to support you every step of the way. 

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