Pap Smears

Everything You Need to Know About Pap Smears

What is a Pap Smear?

A Pap smear, formally known as the Papanicolaou test, is a procedure in which cells are scraped from the cervix and examined using a microscope. The test is used to detect cell abnormalities that could potentially be a sign of cervical cancer or other conditions, such as infection, HPV, and inflammation. A Pap smear is the best means to discover precancerous conditions and concealed tumors that may lead to cervical cancer. 

So, what exactly happens during a Pap smear? Well, we’re glad you asked. When performing a Pap smear, your gynecologist will insert a speculum into the vagina in order to widen the opening and exam both the cervix and the vagina. The doctor then takes a sample of the cervical cells using either a small spatula or brush. These samples are then placed into a solution, transferred into a small glass slide, and sent to a laboratory for cytological examination. 

Why Should I Get a Pap Smear?

The primary benefit of a Pap smear test is that it screens for cervical cancer and has saved the lives of many women since it’s discovery in the mid-1900s. Cervical cancer occurs when cervical cells become abnormal and expand uncontrollably over time. The cancer cells invade deep into the cervical tissue and, in advanced cases, the cancer cells spread to other organs in the body.

What to Do If Your Pap Smear Is Abnormal

Pap test results can take as long as three weeks. If your test results come back normal, you can wait up to three years before your next Pap smear. 

If a test indicates that something is abnormal, it does not mean that you have cancer, but an abnormal test does mean that the cells of the cervix do not look normal. Because Pap smears are a screening test and not a diagnostic test, it cannot tell for certain that cancer is present. An abnormal test could indicate that there is inflammation or minor cell changes called dysplasia – these cells look abnormal but are not cancerous. 

Whatever the case may be, your doctor will contact you in order to schedule a follow-up. In many cases, immediate treatment can prevent cervical cancer from developing, so early detection and following up is critical. 

Most issues that end up being non-cancerous but are still detected in a Pap smear tend to clear up or go back to normal on their own. In order to verify that this is the case, your doctor will probably recommend having a follow-up test within the next few months.

How to Prepare For Your Pap Smear

When Should You Start Getting Screened?

Women should have a Pap smear every two years starting at the age of 21. After age 30, you may choose to receive the HPV test, performed at the same time as your Pap smear. You may also choose to decrease the frequency to every three years if you’re low-risk and have always had normal results up to this age. 

Despite what many women believe, you are never too old for a Pap test. Most women over 65 do not need Pap smears, but it may be necessary if you have had treatment for precancerous or cancerous cells in the past 20 years. However, women that have had regular screenings in the previous 10 years and haven’t had precancerous cells found in the last 20 years should stop cervical cancer screenings. 

Before Getting a Pap Smear

There are certain things that you must avoid doing prior to getting a Pap smear:

  • Having sex
  • Using a tampon
  • Douching
  • Using medicine or cream in your vagina
  • Using spermicidal treatments

You’ll also want to avoid scheduling your Pap smear during your period because although the test can be done during a menstrual cycle, it is best to avoid that if possible. Cervical screening results are not always active and can sometimes show abnormal cells where they are not present. These are all things that can potentially cause a false-negative result due to the presence of inflamed cells. 

Don’t Skip Your Pap Smear

The momentary discomfort of a Pap smear is well worth the lifesaving results that can come from them. Pap smears are one of the most reliable cancer screenings currently available. 

It is important that you are taking your health needs into account that are specific to being a woman and not simply ignoring them. At Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care, we want to make sure you are healthy through all the seasons of your life. During your well-woman exam, your provider can screen for health problems and answer any of your questions and concerns.

Gynecologist

Finding Dr. Right: What to Look for in a Gynecologist & Steps to Finding the Perfect One

When it comes to finding the perfect gynecologist, it takes a little more than a recommendation from a friend. Whether you’ve recently moved, are seeing a gynecologist for the first time, or want someone different from your current provider, this is an important decision for your health.

It can be a daunting task to find a healthcare provider of any kind, especially one that you will form such an intimate relationship with and there are several things you’ll want to look for in a gynecologist.

Step 1: Evaluate Your Needs

There are a variety of gynecologic services out there and different gynecologists specialize in different areas under the broad topic of women’s care.

If you’re looking for someone to conduct your annual well-woman exam – which may include breast exams, pelvic exams, evaluation, counseling, Pap Smears, and a host of other services – then a general gynecologist or women’s health specialist would be a good choice for you. 

If you want to get pregnant, we recommend looking for an obstetrician-gynecologist, a doctor that specializes in family planning, pregnancy, and baby delivery. 

If you have specific concerns or conditions you want to address, they will likely fall under one of gynecology’s many subspecialties, which range from gynecologic cancer to infertility to urogynecology and much more. When you bring up these specific concerns with your gynecologist, he or she may send you to a specialist for advanced treatment. 

One of the best things about Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care is that whatever type of care you are seeking, we have high-quality physicians that specialize in it and probably under the same roof. 

Step 2: Make a List & Do Your Research.

To find the perfect gynecologist, you first have to define what “perfect” looks like to you. Every woman has a different interpretation of what is important to her healthcare experience. So before beginning your search, define “perfect” by making a list of traits that are important to you in a gynecologist.

Here are a few factors you should look for in a gynecologist.

  • They come highly recommended. 

One of the best ways to find the perfect gynecologist is to ask women you trust – family, friends, your primary care provider. If they can vouch for the doctor’s experience, bedside manner, and skills, they might be a good fit for you as well.  

  • They accept your insurance. 

Cost is an important consideration when choosing medical services of any kind. If the gynecologist is not within the network that your insurance offers coverage for, you’ll end up paying out-of-pocket for your care, which can quickly add up. 

Give your insurer a call at the start of your search to see which gynecologists in your area are included in your insurance plan. 

  • They receive good reviews.

Once you have the names of a few gynecologists, look up their reviews on medical-rating websites like Healthgrades, Vitals, and Zocdoc. These websites are great because they allow current patients to rate doctors based on qualifications like office environment, staff friendliness, doctor-patient relationships, ease of scheduling appointments, and trustworthiness.

You can also see patient comments and overall ratings. If you see one or two negative reviews among a host of positive reviews, those are not a huge concern. But dozens of negative reviews should be a red flag.

  • They’re experienced and educated.

While you are already searching online, check out the gynecologist’s credentials. The same website from above should offer the doctors bio as well as on the practice’s website.

From these sources, you should be able to find out where the doctor went to medical school and completed their residency, if their board certified by the American Board of obstetrics and gynecology, how many years they’ve practiced, and what their specialties are. 

Just because the doctor has a medical degree doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the perfect gynecologist for you. If you are dealing with a particular condition, find out what experience this doctor has in treating it.

  • You feel comfortable with them.

Remember, this is someone that you are going to cultivate a very intimate relationship with. You need to be completely comfortable with the person that is performing your gynecologic exam and who will be asking you very personal questions about your reproductive health.

There are several things that go into this evaluation but one of the most prevalent is gender. Some women prefer to be seen by a doctor of the same gender, while others have no preference at all. You should factor that into your search.

  • They have similar values to you.

When it comes to topics such as birth control, contraceptives, family planning, and reproductive health, finding a provider who shares your views and values increases the likelihood that you will be a satisfied patient.

This can be hard to judge prior to your appointment. Let’s say you go to a gynecologist seeking contraception and, upon discussing this during your appointment, you discover that your doctor does not believe in birth control. They are, therefore, not able to meet your needs and it’s time to re-evaluate and find a new gynecologist that can.

Step 3: Call the Practice

This is a simple step but we highly recommend calling ahead to a prospective practice to gauge their quality of service based on how they treat you over the phone. 

There’s a lot you can learn about any business from how they treat potential customers over the phone. If they seem unable to answer your questions or unorganized with patient and doctor information, that doesn’t speak to their competency as a practice. If you feel like you’re being treated like just another patient, that will only be more pronounced during an appointment. 

Trust your gut in this scenario and make the best choice for you, even if it means you have to start your search all over again.

Step 4: Evaluate Your Experience Post-Appointment

Bedside manner is important to assess with any doctor but it’s especially important that the doctor who you are trusting your reproductive health with is respectful, competent, and compassionate. Try discussing the topics of sex, contraception, pregnancy, or your overall well-being with someone who seems like s(he) couldn’t care less or worse, is judging every word you say. Oof, no thank you. If they make no effort to ease your discomfort – or heighten it for that matter – they are not the right doctor for you. 

A good doctor won’t make you feel like you’re just another patient taking up time in their busy schedule. They will listen but also engage in dialogue. You should expect that your doctor listens well, hears your questions and concerns, and responds respectfully, explaining his/her course of actions or advice in a way you can understand. 

If you can get anything from this guide, it should be this: Don’t settle. There are physicians out there who want to help and spend time with you.

Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care consists of over 30 OB/GYN facilities and 6 Imaging Centers throughout the Hampton Roads community
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