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Why Regular Pap Tests Are So Important

Why Regular Pap Tests Are So Important

Not long after people become sexually active, most are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV). While your immune system does a great job of fighting these infections, they can still lay the groundwork for cancer in the future, which is why screening tools like the Pap test should be a regular part of your well-woman care.

Here at Women’s Clinic of the Rio Grande Valley, our team, which is led by Dr. Fernando Otero, provides comprehensive women’s health services, which includes well woman exams and important screening tools, such as the Pap or HPV test.

Here’s a look at why you should have us perform regular Pap tests and how often.

Staying one step ahead of cervical cancer with the Pap test

We mentioned earlier that most sexually active people encounter an HPV infection at some point, and these infections usually aren’t cause for too much concern. There are more than 200 types of HPV viruses and we consider about a dozen of them to be high risk, meaning they’re associated with certain cancers, such as cervical, anal, throat, penile, and vaginal.

Unfortunately, around half of HPV infections fall into this higher-risk category, which is why routine testing is so important.

The Pap test is a screening tool that’s designed to detect abnormal, precancerous, or cancerous cells on your cervix. Since we can identify these cells long before they become full-blown invasive cervical cancer, which is diagnosed in nearly 14,000 American women each year, the Pap test is an incredibly effective screening tool that allows us time to take action.

Undergoing a Pap test is very easy — we simply brush a swab across the surface of your cervix to collect cells. We do this during a pelvic exam, and the cell collection is painless. Then, we observe the cells under a microscope for any signs of trouble. 

How often you should undergo a Pap test

The testing guidelines for the Pap test are fairly straightforward and also include a separate HPV test. The difference between a Pap test and an HPV test is that the HPV test identifies infection while the Pap test is designed to find precancerous cell changes. 

We recommend that all women start Pap testing after the age of 21, whether or not you’re sexually active. Please note that HPV infections can be spread through intercourse as well as oral and anal sex.

Once you start screening, here’s what we feel is a good schedule:

This schedule assumes that results come back normal. If your test results are abnormal, which can occur often if your body is in the midst of fighting an HPV infection, we will likely test you more frequently to track the cell changes.

If you have a few abnormal Pap tests in a row, we may also use a more conclusive testing tool, such as a biopsy.

So, if you’re behind on your Pap test, we urge you to call us today to get back on track with this important screening. To make an appointment, please contact one of our offices in McAllen or Edinburg, Texas.

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