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Why is a Pap smear important?

Written by : DoctorNDTV Team

A Pap smear and pelvic exam are important parts of a woman’s routine health care because they can detect abnormalities that may lead to invasive cancer of the cervix. These abnormalities can be treated before cancer develops. Also, as with many types of cancer, cancer of the cervix is more likely to be treated successfully if it is detected early. The Pap smear tests for abnormal changes in the cervical cells. A precancerous change in the cells, called cervical dysplasia, can be detected by a Pap smear. The abnormal cells can develop into cancer if the dysplasia is not discovered and treated. The Pap smear may also detect viral infections of the cervix, such as genital warts and herpes. It may detect vaginal infections such as infections with yeast or trichomonas. Sometimes the Pap smear can give information about the hormones, especially progesterone and estrogen. Most women should get a Pap smear at least every year, especially if they are sexually active.

You are at an increased risk for cervical cancer if:

  • You have had an abnormal Pap smear.
  • You began to have sexual intercourse in your teens or earlier.
  • You have a history of many sexual partners.
  • You or your sexual partner has had genital wart virus infection.
  • You have had vulvar or vaginal cancer.
  • Your sexual partner has or had cancer of the penis.
  • You smoke cigarettes.
  • Your immune system is weakened; for example, because you have had a transplant, you are taking immunosuppressive drugs, or you have AIDS.
Pap smears can detect precancerous and cancerous conditions. If these conditions are discovered, there is a good chance that simple treatment will prevent the development or spread of cancer.

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