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For women only: the pap test

Cancer of the cervix (the lower, narrow part of your womb) could practically be eliminated if every woman were to have regular Pap tests. Half of the women diagnosed with cervical cancer have never had a Pap test, while another 10 percent have not had one in the last five years. Each year 15,000 women develop cervical cancer, and 5,000 die from it.

The Pap test, also called a Pap smear, is a simple and painless test. A wooden scraper (spatula) and/or a small brush is used to collect a sample of cells from your cervix and upper vagina. The cells are placed on a glass slide and sent to a medical laboratory to be checked for abnormal changes.

When should you have a pap test?
If you have been sexually active or are 18 or older, you should have a pelvic exam and a Pap test each year.

You can ensure the quality of your Pap test by scheduling your exam at the best time, between 10 and 20 days after the first day of your menstrual cycle. You should avoid sexual relations for 24 hours and douching for 72 hours prior to your test.

An abnormal Pap test does not mean cancer is present, but it does mean a follow-up visit to your doctor is needed.

If you have not had a Pap test during the past year, contact your doctor and schedule one. The Pap test detects about 95 percent of cervical cancers and has lowered the death rate from this disease by 70 percent over the past 50 years.

The Baptist Health Cancer Resource Center offers a wealth of information on cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment. The Cancer Resource Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To reach the center, call (502) 896-3009 or fax (502) 896-3010. The Cancer Resource Center is a service of Baptist Health Cancer Care.