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Fri, May 13, 2016 at 12:00 AM

Why a regular pap test can mean life or death for women

The purpose of a pap smear is to check for cervical cancer or pre-cancerous cells.

More than 90 percent of cervical cancer is caused by the HPV or human papillomavirus, which most women are exposed to once they become sexually active.

Because of that, women should have a pap tests at 21 years old. If results are normal, then a test every three years is recommended until age 30. With no problem found, then test every five years from age 30 up.

“It’s an easy exam,” says Dr. Andreana Johnson, OB/GYN at Marshall Medical South. “We try to make it as painless and comfortable as possible.”

Still, many women neglect their annual check-ups. Excuses vary from forgetting appointments to fear of cancer. But the message is clear that early detection often is the key to survival.

“It’s very curable if found early,” Dr. Johnson says. “It’s much easier than major surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, if needed.”

Recommendations change once women go through menopause. Women who have had a hysterectomy with no damage to the cervix never need to have another pap test. But, Dr. Johnson emphasizes, you still need an annual exam. 

Women should continue to get a pelvic exam and a breast exam because issues can appear and not be seen outside an office setting. There may be prolapse or skin problems. Any pain or bleeding should trigger an office visit. Problems may have a simple solution and not require surgery, she says. 

If your doctor should change the frequency of your pap tests, it’s likely because of the changed recommendations.

“Don’t worry if your doctor says you don’t need one every year,” Dr. Johnson says. “It’s probably a good sign.”

Dr. Johnson practices at Medical Centers OB/GYN in suite 200 of the Marshall South Physicians Office Building. For appointments call: (256) 840-3396.

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