Healthy Minds Tip: Learn More About Pap Tests

Learn about pap tests. Be proactive. Protect your health.
Image credit: euthman via Flickr / Student Communications Services

What is this mysterious Pap test we hear about so often? And how do you know if you need to get one?

Let’s get some answers! First off, a Pap test (or Pap smear) is a routine screening procedure performed by a doctor or nurse. It is a sample of cells collected from the cervix that are spread onto a slide and sent to the Cervical Cancer Screening Laboratory in Vancouver. It’s then examined for signs of abnormal cells. If abnormal cells are found, physicians can initiate early treatment to stop cervical cancer from developing. The Pap test may also detect infections and abnormalities in the endocervix and endometrium.

So who needs Pap tests? The answer to that question is relatively simple: anyone with a cervix. More specifically, regular Pap tests should begin at age 21 or approximately 3 years after first sexual activity or sexual contact, whichever occurs first. Then, regular pap tests should be repeated every 12 months until there are three consecutive negative results, then continue every 2 years. It’s important to note that you should get tested if you’ve had sexual contact because HPV (Human Papillomavirus, a virus that can cause those pre-cancerous changes in the cervical cells) can be transmitted via skin-to-skin genital contact, not just through penetrative sexual intercourse.

Even if you’ve had the HPV vaccine (e.g. Gardasil), you should still get regular Pap tests, as the vaccine doesn’t cover all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. You should ask your doctor about Pap tests if you’ve ever had a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus).

Drop-in pap tests
Drop-in pap tests will be offered at Student Health Service on Wednesday, March 7 from 12 Noon to 7:30 pm.  Keep in mind that only pap tests and appropriate STI testing will be offered for drop-in appointments; no other health concerns can be addressed. Additional STI testing may include:

  • Cervical cultures for gonorrhea and Chlamydia
  • Blood tests (optional) for HIV and syphilis

To learn more about Pap tests, visit the BC Cancer Agency.