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what is a pap smear

A Pap smear, also called a Pap test, is a screening procedure for cervical cancer. It tests for the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix. The cervix is the opening of the uterus.

During the routine procedure, cells from your cervix are gently scraped away and then examined for abnormal growth. The procedure is done at your doctor’s office. It may be mildly uncomfortable, but doesn’t usually cause any long-term pain.

Keep reading to learn more about who needs a Pap smear, what to expect during the procedure, how frequently you should have a Pap smear test, and more.

Most women should start getting regular Pap smears at age 21. Some women may be at increased risk for cancer or infection. You may need more frequent tests if:

you’re HIV-positive
you have a weakened immune system from chemotherapy or an organ transplant
If you’re over 30 and have had three normal Pap tests in a row, ask your doctor about having one every five years if the test is combined with a human papillomavirus (HPV) screening. HPV is a virus that causes warts. The primary causes of cervical cancer are HPV types 16 and 18. If you have HPV, you may have an increased risk for developing cervical cancer.

Women over the age of 65 with a history of normal Pap test results may be able to stop having Pap smears in the future.

You should still get regular Pap smears even if you’re in a monogamous relationship. That’s because the HPV virus can be dormant for years, and then suddenly become active.