t's a method used by doctors around the world to screen women for cancers or anomalies in the female reproductive system, most specifically around the cervix. Pap stands for Papanicolaou, named after the man who discovered the process. Also known as Pap smears or cervical cytology, this method enables doctors to retrieve a small portion of cells from the lower part of the womb at the cervix. Newer technology also employs the use of HPV testing. It's easy, painless and one of the best prevention methods for detecting cervical cancer today. Women of all ages benefit from yearly Pap or HPV screening to help detect abnormalities in the vaginal canal, cervix and uterus. Cervical cancer is one of the easiest to treat with regular screenings and follow-ups.
Common Pap Screening Process
A Pap screening process takes just a few minutes. Your gynecologist will use one of two different methods to test for cervical cancer:
The traditional Pap test will screen for precancerous cells or changes in appearance of cells on the cervix that might develop into cancer cells. The HPV test looks for the specific virus that can cause such changes in cells found within the cervix. Women over 20 years old who have abnormal results in a Pap smear test should consider an HPV test, while women over 30 may opt to have the HPV test in conjunction with the Pap at their yearly check-ups. HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is fairly common among women and includes both low-risks and high-risks. Low risks include anything from warts to high-risk factors that may cause cervical cancer.
Patients should know that the newer HPV test might provide more accurate results than the traditional Pap smears, from about 95% accuracy to the 55% provided by Pap test.
During the screening process, your gynecologist will insert a speculum into the vaginal canal so that he or she may view and access the cervix. Using a small plastic scrapper, the doctor will scrape a small sample of surface cells from the walls or the cervix. This sampling or "smear" will be placed on a lab-testing slide or plate and sent to a laboratory for examination. The entire process takes just a few minutes and again, is painless. The sample procured for the Pap smear may also be used for the HPV test. In most cases, your doctor will also take a moment to check your uterus, ovaries and other organs in the pelvic area for signs of swelling or pain.
Females of all ages may benefit from Pap screenings. Women should start receiving Pap screens annually at the age of 21, or within three years after they become sexually active. Pap screenings are the most reliable cancer screening methods and should be taken advantage of. Women past childbearing age should also continue to receive Pap screening until she reaches about 65 years of age.
Patients should remember that the Pap screen test itself is not cost-prohibitive, but doctor's office visit costs often prevent women from receiving yearly exams. While clinics throughout the U.S. may provide free services, not everyone is able to benefit from these. In most cases, the cost of Pap Screening in the U.S. is about $25 to $75. This does not include the doctor's office visit, which may range in averages from $45 to $75 depending on geographical area. Abnormal results or follow-ups may cost extra. The HPV test is a bit more expensive. Typical costs for the HPV test start at about $90 and may reach higher, again depending on geographical location.
Medical travelers may expect savings in countries like India, Thailand and South America by as much as 50% to 75%. It is not recommended that individuals make a special trip to another country for such tests, but if you're planning a vacation to a foreign destination, take advantage of lower medical costs and take care of some health business while you're there.
In most cases, a gynecologist will perform Pap screenings, but so do general medical practitioners (MDs) and Doctors of Osteopathy (Dos). Always check the credentials of any physician you see for health reasons and make sure he or she is accredited and certified to practice in your area. If you go to a clinic, make sure county, state or national accreditation boards or organizations accredit such facilities.
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