Q & A with Dr. Rani Bhat

Is Pap test necessary for me?

Yes, if you are sexually active then Pap test is necessary because a regular Pap test will prevent you from developing cervical cancer.

What is a Pap test?

  • Pap test is also known as Pap smear, is a screening procedure where the cervix is checked for any abnormalities. If these abnormal cells are not identified and treated then it can turn into cancer after a few years.
  • Cervix is the lowest part of the uterus. In this procedure, a speculum is gently inserted into the vagina and the cells lining the cervix are collected. These cell samples are then sent to the laboratory for examination.

Why do I need a Pap test?

  • Every sexually active women are at risk of developing cervical cancer, but it can be prevented by having a Pap smear test regularly. Pap smear test aids in the early detection of pre-cancerous cells. These cells have some changes but have not yet turned into cancer, hence called pre-cancerous or pre-invasive conditions. When the pre-cancerous condition is picked up on a Pap smear test and treated appropriately it helps in preventing cervical cancer. If we don’t identify this condition then there is a risk of developing cervical cancer.

How often should I get the Pap tests?

  • The Pap test is recommended for all sexually active women.
  • The recommended age for undergoing the Pap test is at the age of 21 years or 3 years of being sexually active.
  • For women aged between 21 and 65, undergoing a Pap test every three years is recommended.
  • For women aged 30 to 65 years and those who wish to lengthen the screening interval then Pap test and HPV test is recommended every 5 years. HPV test is also an important test to check for HPV virus as this is the same virus that causes cervical cancer. After 65 years if you have had regular Pap test and all reports have been normal then you can stop going for Pap test.

Who does not need to get regular Pap tests?

Women with the following criteria need not undergo Pap test at regular intervals:

  • Women aged 65 and older with 3 negative results for the Pap test.
  • Women who have undergone hysterectomy and if they have had 2 negative co-test results in a row within the last 10 years or negative test results obtained within the last 5 years.

It is advised to discuss with your doctor before stopping your regular Pap tests.

Who needs Pap tests more often?

Sometimes Pap and HPV test may be required to be performed more frequently than the normal in some women because they are at higher risk of developing cancer such as,

  • Women with abnormal Pap test results and with a medical history of cervical cancer or precancerous cells.
  • HIV positive women. Women living with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) are at an increased risk of cervical cancer and other cervical diseases owing to their compromised immune system. HIV positive women are suggested to take a Pap test at the time of HIV diagnosis. The second Pap test (Or Pap test if older than 30) is done after 12 months followed by another Pap test after 6 months (depends on the doctor’s instructions). With 3 consecutive negative results for the Pap test, a follow-up of the Pap test every 3 years is advised.
  • Prenatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) i.e., daughters and granddaughters of women exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) during their pregnancy. There is an increased risk of cervical cancer and other cancer on exposure to this synthetic hormone. Prevent cervical cancer by going for regular Pap smear test.