Cancer and precancer cells are detected through a pap test (or pap smears). The cancerous cell changes are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and when they are left untreated, these abnormal cells could result to cervical cancer. On the other hand, an HPV test checks for HPV in cervical cells. Women of age range 21 to 65 years should have a pap test done or, a Pap test and HPV test together. Not every woman needs this test every year.
What is a pap test?
A Pap test is a test your health provider does to check your cervix for any cells that are not normal. The cervix is located at the lower part of your uterus (womb), and it opens into the vagina. Abnormal cervical cell not found and treated can lead to cervical cancer.
A pap test procedure allows your health care provider to look into your cervix after inserting a speculum (a tool that helps his view) into your vagina. Cells from the outside of your cervix are then collected with the use of a special stick of soft brush. These cells are sent to the laboratory for testing.
What is HPV test?
An HPV test checks for DNA of HPV in cells from your cervix.. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that goes away on its own in most people. If it does not go away, HPV can result to abnormal cervical cells that lead to cervical cancer.
There are certain types of human papilloma virus that are more likely to result to cervical cancer. The type can be detected by having a test ordered by your doctor.
During an HPV test, your health provider inserts a speculum into your vagina and with a soft brush, cells from the outside of your cervix will be taken for further testing.
You can have pap and HPV tests done at the same time (termed co-testing).
Why do you need HPV and Pap test?
If you really want to know, a pap test can save your life and help you detect cervical cells early. This will increase the chances of successful treatment because the cells are detected early. When these cells are detected at the precancerous stage and removed, it prevents cervical cancer over 95% of the time.
An HPV test provides more information to your doctor about the cells in your cervix. If Pap test reveals abnormal cervical cells, HPV test will show whether you have a type of HPV that results to cervical cancer.
Who should get HPV and Pap tests?
- Women between ages 21 to 65 years old should get Pap tests as a routine health care. Also, if you are not sexually active, got the HPV vaccine, or have gone through menopause, you still need regular Pap tests. Recommendations from expert says
- Women 21–29, every 3 years
- Women 30–65, every 3 years, or an HPV test every 5 years, or both together (called co-testing) every 5 years.
- Women older than 65 will need a pap test if they never the test before
It is recommended to have HPV tests for women older than 30 years, pap tests combined with HPV tests, are most useful.
Who does not need to get regular pap or HPV tests?
The only women who may not need regular Pap or HPV tests are:
- Women older than 65 with previous normal pap tests, or two normal co-tests within the last 10 years and have been duely informed by their health provider that they do not need the test anymore.
- Women who do not have a cervix and also, a history of cervical cancer.
Are pap and HPV tests painful?
The tests should not be painful although some women can find it uncomfortable. You will experience a pressure feeling when your health care provider inserts the speculum into your vagina. Using a smaller speculum may help reduce the pain if you have history of painful sex. You can also prevent pain by emptying your bladder before the test and use of pain relievers.
What does my pap test result mean?
You result may fall in any of these category
Normal. The cells collected from your cervix during the test appear the way they should and you do not need to do anything until your next pap test.
Unclear. Your nurse or doctor is not clear whether the cells collected from your cervix during the pap test are normal or abnormal. This requires more testing to rule out any problem. You may be given another appointment.
Abnormal. The cells collected from your cervix during the pap test appear abnormal. This does not mean that you have cancer, but you need other tests to find out what should happen next. Your doctor may choose to do another pap test immediately, or wait for 6 months to a year before another test. If further test finds more serious changes in the cells of your cervix, test like colposcopy and biopsy may be recommended for you.
When will I get my Pap and HPV test result?
Most times, it takes 1 to 3 weeks to get Pap and HPV test results.