In the 1940's, Dr. Papanicolaou developed a technique for sampling the cells of the cervix (Pap smear) to screen patients for cancer of the cervix. This technique has proven to be very effective at not only detecting cancer, but the pre-cancerous, reversible changes that lead to cancer.
While not originally designed to detect anything other than cancer, the Pap smear has proven useful in identifying other, unsuspected problems. Generally, the Pap smear detects about:
So useful has the Pap smear become, it is considered an essential part of women's health care. It is typically performed annually in sexually-active women of childbearing age, although there are some important exceptions.
Because the Pap smear is a screening test, it can have both false positive and false negative results. For this reason, it is important to have the test performed regularly. It is not likely that the Pap smear will miss an important lesion time after time after time.
A number of forms of Pap smears have evolved. The standard, traditional Pap technique involves smearing the specimen onto a glass slide, which is then processed and read by a cytotechnologist. Newer techniques involve changes in specimen handling (fluid medium) and computer-assisted screening, all designed to improve accuracy.
Frequency of Pap Smears
OB-GYN 101: Introductory
Obstetrics & Gynecology
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