Legacy Women's Health

Pap Smears

Pap smears are part of routine cervical cancer screening

Pap smears, also called Pap tests, are one of the tools our San Antonio OBGYNs use for cervical cancer screening. The other is an HPV, or human papillomavirus, test. Each test has a different purpose.

The Pap test detects abnormal cells located in the cervix. Our physicians perform the HPV test to look for different types of human papillomaviruses linked to cervical cancer. The guidelines for when and how often to have these tests differ, depending on your age, medical history and health.

Guidelines for cervical cancer screening

Some patients are surprised to learn they will not receive a Pap smear at every annual examination. Researchers and physicians changed the guidelines, based on research about cervical cancer. Here’s how the new guidelines work.

  • Under 21 — No screening is necessary.
  • Ages 21 to 29 — Get a Pap test only, every three years.
  • Ages 30 to 65 — Undergo co-testing every five years, meaning having a Pap smear and an HPV test at the same time. Or, choose a Pap test only every three years and an HPV test only every five years.
  • Ages 65 and older — No screening is needed if you have had three negative Pap smear results in a row, two negative tests for HPV in a row, or two negative co-testing results in a row in the last 10 years. In all cases, a woman’s most recent tests need to have occurred in the last three to five years.

Understandably, many patients find these guidelines confusing. Our San Antonio OBGYNs and medical team members are happy to walk patients through the best options for their individual needs.

How to prepare for Pap smears

Certain factors can interfere with Pap smears and influence the test results, so we ask patients to follow these guidelines before their tests.

  • No use of tampons, birth control foams or jellies, douches, lubricants, vaginal creams or medications for at least two days prior to the test.
  • No vaginal sexual intercourse for two days before the Pap test.
  • Patients should schedule their appointments at least five days after their menstrual period ends for best results.

What to expect during Pap tests

During a Pap test, our physicians insert a speculum into the vagina to hold the vaginal walls open, so they can see the cervix. They gently scrape a few cells from the cervix. It shouldn’t be painful, but some women find it uncomfortable and have some light bleeding after the test.

Patients who experience heavy bleeding, fever or chills, severe abdominal pain or vaginal drainage with a foul smell after their Pap test should contact us, but these reactions are rare.

Our San Antonio OBGYNs provide expert preventive care and screenings

Pap smears and cervical cancer screenings are part of our annual wellness and preventive care. Pap tests help us detect cervical cancer at its earliest, most treatable stages. Our caring physicians and team provide comprehensive care to help women get healthier and feel better. Contact us for an appointment with our San Antonio OBGYNs.