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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PAP TEST

The Pap test, also known as the Pap smear, checks for changes in the cells of your cervix.  The cervix is the lower part of the womb or uterus.  The Pap test detects infection and unhealthy cells which may develop into cervical cancer.

In this way a Pap test can save your life.  You do not have to be sexually active to develop cervical cancer.  It could happen for other reasons including family history of cancer (genetics), effects of pollution (smoke, toxins), overweight or obesity.

The Pap test could find unhealthy cells before they turn into cancer or before the cancer spreads beyond the cervix into surrounding organs.  The further a cancer spreads, the harder it is to treat.  There is no age limit for the Pap test but women age 70 and above may be able to stop if they have not had an abnormal Pap results during the last 10 years.  The only women who do not need annual Pap tests are those over age 70, those who do not have a cervix and are at low-risk for cancer.  

 To reduce your chances of getting cervical cancer even further you should avoid situations in which you could get Human Papillomavirus or HPV which is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).  To avoid catching an STD you should not have sex before age 18, practice abstinence or monogamy and safe sex practices.  About 75% of sexually active females will get an HPV at sometime in their lives.  Most women do not develop cancer.  For those who do, the Pap test is extremely important to avoid cancer.

If you have never had a Pap test before it is very easy to be afraid of this procedure.  Fear is the main reason some people do not perform health tests that could save their lives.  During a Pap test your doctor may also do a pelvic exam.  The Pap test is usually painless, but the procedure could be uncomfortable from some women, and perhaps embarrassing.  However, developing cancer is a much more painful and uncomfortable possibility.  It usually takes up to three weeks for Pap test results to return.  Most of the time, the test results are normal.  If they are abnormal, your doctor will contact you to schedule more tests.  There are many reasons why it may be abnormal and usually does not mean you may have cancer.  While some abnormal cells may develop into cancer, most of the time they go away on their own or need some type of treatment to avoid cancer.  To determine what type of treatment, additional tests may be done including a colposcopy or biopsy during which a doctor will take a sample of cervical tissue for testing.

Pap tests are not 100 percent accurate during the first testing.  A false positive test is when a woman is told she has abnormal cervical cells when they are actually normal.  If this happens there is no problem.  However, a false negative Pap test could cause the doctor to miss possible abnormal cells which later turn into cancer.  This is why regular annual Pap testing is so important.  If abnormal cells are missed at one testing, they may be found in the following test.  It is also important to remember that the Pap test is used to detect cervical cancer, not ovarian cancer.  For this reason, it is important to have yearly pelvic exams with your ObGyn doctor, and report any changes you may experience such as abnormal bloating, pain in the abdomen, weight loss for no reason, abnormal bleeding.

Regular Pap testing is recommended for girls and women immunized against HPV with the HPV vaccine: Gardasil.  The vaccine protects the immunized person from four types of HPV which cause cervical changes that could turn into cancer, but there are over fifty types of these viruses that could cause cancer and other health problems detectable with a Pap test. 

Free Pap testing is available through the American Samoa Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program under the Department of Public Health at 633-2135.  After-hours clinics are open at the Tafuna Health Clinic and LBJ ObGyn from 4pm to 7pm weekly.    The Pap test is the simplest and least expensive way of preventing a specific type of cancer.  Cervical cancer may develop without symptoms, without your knowing it, until it is too late and drastic treatments are needed to save your life.  Take advantage of the free services offered on-island to prevent cervical cancer: the HPV Vaccine from the Immunization Program (girls and women age 9 – 26) and free Pap tests through the Breast & Cervical cancer Early Detection Program.



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