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Why are Pap smears necessary?
What influence does sexual activity have on Pap smears and cervical cancer?In most cases, cervical cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted disease called human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV infection occurs when the virus enters your body through a cut, abrasion or imperceptible tear in the outer layer of your skin. The virus is transferred primarily by skin-to-skin contact during intercourse. If you have not had sexual intercourse, itís unlikely you would develop HPV. However, family history, smoking and other risk factors can also contribute to development of cervical cancer.
What should I know when scheduling a Pap smear?To make your test as accurate as possible, avoid douching or using any vaginal medicines or spermicidal foams, creams or jellies for two days before the test. Try not to schedule the test during your menstrual period because better samples can be collected if you are not having your cycle.
How long do I need to continue having Pap smears?If you had a total hysterectomy (your uterus and cervix were removed) for a non-cancerous condition, you may no longer need regular Pap smears. If you had a hysterectomy due to a cancerous or precancerous condition or had a partial hysterectomy (your uterus removed but your cervix remains), you should continue to have regular Pap smears. American Cancer Society guidelines say you may be able to stop routine screenings at age 70 if you've had three or more normal Pap smears in a row and no abnormal smears for the past 10 years.
What if I have never had a Pap smear or I havenít had one for many years?
Itís never too late to begin. Early detection of cancer is the most important tool in positive outcomes. A Pap smear is a quick, painless test that your doctor will do in a private setting. Some women are uncomfortable having a male provider handle these types of exams. If thatís the case, you can schedule a Pap smear with a female doctor and still return to your regular doctor for future appointments. Schedule your appointment today.
Dr. Gretchen Belzer-Curl is a board-certified family medicine physician at Sanford North Mandan Clinic. A graduate of the UND School of Medicine, Dr. Belzer-Curl specializes in womenís medicine, preventative health, abnormal Paps and colposcopies. She enjoys music, skiing, running and time with her husband and four children.