Who should have Pap tests?
Females who are or have been sexually active for three years, or who have reached age 21, should have Pap tests and pelvic exams regularly.
At Children's, we follow the guidelines set forth by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Over the last few years, there have been many adjustments to these guidelines and we can help your family understand.
Are there Pap test alternatives?
- In the past few years, a newer way of testing cervical cells for abnormalities has gained acceptance in the medical community. This procedure is called liquid-based cytology.
- Approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the test is a liquid procedure in which cells from the cervix are put into a vial of liquid instead of being "smeared" onto a slide. The liquid is then filtered and only the cervical cells are placed onto a slide for examination.
- Though the cost of the procedure, called Thinprep, AutoCyte or SurePath, is double what a Pap test costs, studies show that these tests may require fewer repeat tests and detect more early-stage lesions.
- You should consult your physician for more information if you are interested in liquid-based cytology.
What does an abnormal Pap test result mean?
It's not unusual for a Pap smear result to come back abnormal in adolescents. Most times, any lesion that a Pap detects in an adolescent will go away on its own. This is why the AmericanCollegeof Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that if your daughter is under 21 and receives abnormal Pap results, she probably needs no additional testing for one year.
- Abnormal Pap tests may signal that your daughter's cells are infected with Human Papillomavirus (HPV). If she is over 21, she is at risk for developing cervical cancer without further treatment.
- If the test shows a significant abnormality, a colposcopy may be performed (using an instrument called a colposcope) to examine the vagina and the cervix.
- A biopsy of the cervical tissue may need to be analyzed by a pathologist. This is the only sure way to determine whether the abnormal cells indicate cancer.
For more information, see: Abnormal Pap Smear
Is there anything my daughter can do to prevent HPV and the risk of cervical cancer?
- The only way to truly avoid HPV infection is to not have sex.
- Two HPV vaccines have been developed, and clinical trials of these vaccines have been successful.
- One of the vaccines, Gardasil®, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2006 and can protect women from HPV infections. It protects against four types of the HPV virus, including the two viruses that cause 90 percent of genital warts.
- Gardasil can only be used to prevent HPV infection before an abnormal Pap test develops.
- Gardasil is administered as a series of three injections over a six-month period.