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Pap Test

(continued)

What Is a Colposcopy?

Colposcopy is an examination of the cervix and the walls of the vagina. During the examination, a speculum is inserted into the vagina (as done in a Pap test). Your doctor looks through a magnifying instrument called a colposcope to detect cervical and vaginal problems that cannot be seen by the eye alone. During the colposcopy, the colposcope remains outside the vagina. Biopsies (tissue samples) of the abnormal cervical or vaginal area may be taken.

Colposcopy is not always necessary immediately after an abnormal Pap test. Be sure to ask your doctor about other options.

How Often Should I Get a Pap Test?

Pap screen testing should begin at age 21. Routine screening is recommended every three years for women 21-65 years old. For women 30 to 65 years who have a normal Pap test with a negative HPV test, screening can be done every five years.

Women with certain risk factors, such as being HIV positive (carrying the virus that causes AIDS), a weakened immune system due to chemotherapy, organ transplant, chronic steroid use, or have a history of diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure before birth, should continue to be screened more frequently.

What Symptoms Should I Watch for Between Pap Tests?

Precancerous conditions of the cervix seldom cause symptoms. For problems to be detected, a pelvic examination and a Pap test are usually required.

When cancer is present in the cervix, the most common symptom is abnormal bleeding. Bleeding may start and stop between regular menstrual periods, or it may occur after sexual intercourse or douching. Abnormal vaginal discharge is another symptom. Pain is NOT an early warning sign of the disease. These symptoms are not sure signs of cancer. But be sure to see your doctor if any of these symptoms develop.

Do I Need to Get Pap Tests if I Have Had a Hysterectomy?

Most doctors would recommend that you continue to have Pap tests after a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix), especially if you have a history of cervical pre-invasive or invasive cancer or other uterine cancers because you are still at risk for vaginal cancer. Women who have had a partial hysterectomy with the cervix remaining should continue to have routine Pap tests. Check with your doctor to determine if you still need Pap tests. Even women who no longer require Pap tests should see their doctor annually for pelvic exams.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD, FACOG on June 25, 2012
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