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All About Pap Smears

All About Pap Smears

At Four Peaks Primary Care & Internal Medicine in Phoenix, Arizona, we believe preventive health care is the best approach to wellness. Whenever possible, Dr. Fayz Yar Khan and our expert team educate, counsel, and support our patients with information that can help you avoid illness and injury. 

Part of that commitment is our women’s health care service that focuses on a woman’s unique anatomy and reproductive system. Through annual exams, we get to know you well and can detect any changes in your vital signs and monitor any new symptoms that signal a concerning health issue.

One of the tests we administer routinely is the Pap test, sometimes called a Pap smear. Here’s what you need to know about this potentially life-saving exam.

The purpose of a Pap smear

The Pap smear is a screening tool to test for cervical cancer. The method involves collecting some of the cells from your cervix, which is the very top of your vagina and the very bottom of your uterus. 

Once we analyze those cells, we can determine if there are any abnormal cells among them or any changes since the last time we looked. 

What to expect during a Pap smear

When you come in for a Pap test, you remove your clothing from the waist down and cover yourself with a paper gown we supply. You lie back on the exam table and place your heels in two foot rests called stirrups. 

We ask you to slide down so your bottom is at the very edge of the table, and relax your legs so your knees open. Dr. Yar Khan is incredibly respectful of your privacy and dignity, and makes the process as comfortable as possible, and one of our female team members is present at all times. 

Dr. Yar Khan explains each step and each touch along the way so you know exactly what to expect.

The first thing you feel is the slender speculum entering your vagina. This is a smooth metal instrument that expands inside your vaginal canal to create access to your cervix. It’s not painful.

Once the opening is clear, Dr. Yar Khan inserts a long thin swab that he brushes against your cervix to gather some cells. He then withdraws the swab and prepares it for the lab, withdraws the speculum, and the process is complete.

Who needs a Pap smear?

Of course, every woman is unique, and your health care needs are different from other women’s, but in general, we recommend that most women undergo their first Pap test at age 21. If it looks good, then you shouldn’t have to do it again for another three years. 

Typically, women over the age of 65 can stop having Pap smears if they’ve had normal results for several years. And if you no longer have a cervix because you had a hysterectomy, you’re exempt as well.

Understanding your Pap smear results

It usually takes a couple of weeks for the lab to process your test, but almost all Pap smear results come back normal (negative). 

Sometimes, the test results are unclear. That means they’re neither positive nor negative, and you’ll probably need to have another Pap test in six months or so.

Abnormal (positive) test results do NOT mean you have cancer. It only means that there are some abnormal cells that we need to test further and keep an eye on. Dr. Yar Khan may order a biopsy to take a sample of your cervical tissue for a deeper look. Or he may suggest simply monitoring the situation with another Pap test in a few months.

In most cases, abnormal Pap smears are nothing to worry about, or they indicate only a low-grade lesion that has a minimal chance of becoming cancerous.

But the beauty and power of the Pap smear is that it alerts us to those cases when there’s a high-grade lesion that is likely to become cancerous. If your test results suggest a high risk for cancer, count yourself as fortunate to have caught it in this early stage when it can be treated successfully. 

When you’re ready to schedule your Pap smear, you can call our office at 602-357-8349 or book your appointment online. 

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