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Your Pap Test Questions Answered

Topic: Gynecology

Why do I need a pap test?
A pap test is the main screening test for cervical cancer in Alberta. It is a test that checks cervical cells for abnormal or precancerous cells. The majority of cervical cancer is caused by the HPV virus (Human Papilloma Virus). Through a provincial program called the Alberta Cervical Cancer Screening Program, the province keeps track of your pap tests and sends you helpful reminders by mail of your results and when you are due for your next pap.

When should I get my first pap test?
Routine screening starts at age 25, or 3 years after sexual activity, but keep in mind, sexual activity doesn’t always mean penetrative sex. Things like genital touching and oral sex counts too. Routine pap tests should happen every three years until the age of 69 and some women need to have more frequent testing due to certain medical conditions or due to results of their prior pap tests.

What happens at a pap test?
Your provider will position you on the exam table with your legs open to the sides, sometimes resting on leg rests. A speculum (which is a small device that slides into the vagina to visualize the cervix) is placed into the vagina. A brush and or spatula is used to touch the outside of your cervix and take a sample of small cells. Those cells are observed under a microscope to look for abnormal or pre-cancerous changes.

Will it hurt?
Pap tests are something many women worry about. Our providers try our best to make it as comfortable as possible. Pap tests should not hurt although sometimes a small amount of discomfort is felt.

How long will it take?
A pap test is very quick, it should only take a few minutes.

What happens if I have an abnormal result?
Your provider will contact you with the next steps. Some women need to have a repeat pap test at a sooner interval. Other women are referred for more testing. Often a test called a colposcopy is ordered, where small biopsies are taken of the cervix.

Who performs pap tests?
Many allied health professionals can perform pap tests including: Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, Family Physicians and Specialist Physicians.

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