Are you unsure if you need a Pap smear? The gynecologists at Women's Medical Center in Dothan, AL, explain why Pap smears are pap smearrecommended and discuss how often you really need them.

What is a Pap smear?

Pap smears detect cervical cancer and pre-cancerous changes to your cervix. A small sample of cells is collected from your cervix and examined for abnormalities using a microscope. The test only takes seconds and is performed by using a swab to collect cells from surface of your cervix. You may feel a little pressure during the test, but it usually isn't painful. A little bit of bleeding isn't unusual after a Pap smear.

When do I need a Pap smear?

Pap smear recommendations have changed in the past few years. Although you may have gotten the test every year under the previous guidelines, you may not need the test as often now. Pap smears are recommended every three years beginning at age 21. Once you're 30, you might only need the test every five years if the Pap smear and a human papilloma virus (HPV) test are negative. If you are over 65, you may not need to get Pap smears anymore. You can stop having the test if you've had at least three negative smears over the last 10 years. The test also isn't needed if you no longer have a cervix.

If you do have abnormal results at some point, you may need to receive more frequent Pap smears in our Dothan office. Abnormal results don't automatically mean that you have cancer. In many cases, a follow-up test may be negative.

How do I prepare for a Pap smear?

Douching, sexual intercourse and tampon usage can interfere with the accuracy of Pap smears. Avoid using douches or tampons or having sex for 24 hours before your appointment.

Don't put your health at risk by avoiding Pap smears. This simple test will help you ensure you receive prompt treatment should you experience any abnormal changes to your cervical cells. If it's time for your next appointment, call the gynecologists at Women's Medical Center in Dothan, AL, at (334) 793-3900 to schedule your visit.