Pap tests are important because they can tell if you have possible cervical health problems earlier when they can be treated rather than later when they may be more difficult to manage or treat. There is no doubt that having a Pap test can be a bit awkward, but Paps are a quick and easy way that you can take care of your health.
What is a Pap test?
- A Pap test is a way to check the cells on your cervix (the entrance to the uterus) to make sure they are healthy.
- A Pap test cannot tell if you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Why should I get a Pap test?
- A Pap test can help tell you if you have any cells on your cervix that suggest you could develop cervical cancer in the future.
- By finding this out early, you can get treated long before anything more serious happens.
Who should get a Pap test?
- Anyone who has a cervix and has ever been sexually active.
- Anyone who has a cervix, whether they have sex with males or females.
- You should keep getting a Pap test even if you stop having sex.
When should I get my first Pap test?
- Canadian Cancer Ontario (2012) recommends that you start having Pap tests at the age of 21 if you have ever been sexually active. This includes any sexual contact with the vulva or vagina by another person such as fingering, naked dry humping, sharing sex toys, oral sex, etc.
- Guidelines state that there is no reason to go for a Pap test if you are under the age of 21, even if you are sexually active.
- Guidelines state that if you are 21 or older and have never been sexually active, you do not need a Pap test. You would go for your first Pap test when/if you become sexually active.
How often do I need to get a Pap test?
- Cancer Care Ontario (2012) recommends that you get a Pap test every 3 years. If test results show abnormalities in the cervical cells, more frequent testing may be recommended by your doctor.
- Pap tests can stop at the age of 70 as long as you have had 3 or more “normal” tests in the prior 10 years.
- You will usually need to get Pap tests less often (usually every 2-3 years) once you have had about 3 tests in a row that have come back “normal.”
What if a Pap test result comes back “abnormal?”
- An abnormal Pap test result does not mean you have cancer!
- You will be asked to return for Pap tests more often and to make sure the abnormal cells go back to normal. This is usually what happens.
- If your results still aren’t normal, you may have to go to a specialist for further testing or treatment.
- Try not to worry. Treatment for abnormal results is easy and most people never end up developing cancer if abnormal cells are found and treated early.
For more information about how the Pap test is done, check out Getting a Pap Test.