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As a teen girl, what should I know about Pap smears?

Patricia Geraghty, NP
Women's Health
A Pap smear is a test that looks for changes in the cells of the cervix that, if left untreated, could become a cancer. The cervix is the part of the womb that extends into the vagina. The cervix can be infected with a very common virus called Human Papilloma Virus. Most women's own immune system cures this virus. In about 20% of women though the virus becomes chronic and in even fewer women the virus causes cell changes. The pap smear detects these cell changes, hopefully before they are actually cancer cells. By treating these earlier, mild to moderately abnormal cells, cancer can be prevented. Tests for the sexually transmitted infections of chlamydia and gonorrhea can also be done with the pap smear specimen.
The pap smear is done by inserting a speculum, two smooth, rounded surfaces that are roughly the shape of the vagina, into your vagina. The speculum is opened inside the vagina and allows your health care provider to see inside to the cervix. You might want to ask your health care provider if you can hold a mirror so that you can see your cervix too. Then a small brush resembling a soft mascara brush and a spatula are used to wipe the cervical surface and collect cells. The collected sample is then either swished into a liquid or smeared on a glass slide and sent to a laboratory. In the laboratory a pathologist or technician checks the appearance of the cells. You will be informed if there are any cell changes and if any further testing is needed.
You will feel a lot of pressure in the vagina from the speculum. Some women can feel the cervix when the brush and spatula wipe off cells. If done slowly and carefully, the process should not be painful.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.