A Pap test (sometimes called Pap smear or cervical smear) is a simple test used to look at cervical cells. Performed in a doctor’s office or clinic during a pelvic exam, the Pap test involves the scraping of the cervix to acquire a sample of cells. A lab checks the cells under a microscope for cell changes and for the HPV infection. If you have abnormal Pap or HPV test results, your doctor will suggest other tests to make a diagnosis.
Most often, abnormal cells found by a Pap test are not cancerous. However, Pap tests can detect cells that have the potential to become cancerous. This early detection allows treatment to begin when it is likely to be most effective.
Annual Pap tests are no longer recommended because it generally takes much longer than that, 10 to 20 years, for cervical cancer to develop. More frequent screening may lead to unnecessary procedures.
In 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released updated cervical cancer screening recommendations. A collaborative group consisting of the American Cancer Society (ACS), the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP) and the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) also published similar guidelines.
The latest recommendations are as follows:
Most diagnoses of cervical cancer occur between age 30 and 55. For African-American women, this risk is even higher. We provide education and outreach to communities through an innovative program called the Witness Project® of Buffalo and Niagara, which has been based at Roswell Park since 2006.
Through this community and faith-based program cancer survivors (witness role models) and lay healthcare help advisors increase awareness, knowledge and understanding of the importance of screening for both breast and cervical cancers among African-American women, especially those in a lower socio-economic class.
The documented impact of this program has shown significant behavior changes, with an increase in those practicing breast self-exams and cervical screenings that will in turn reduce the mortality and morbidity from cancer.