The Pap smear is a routine gynecological test typically performed during your annual exam. The test checks for abnormal cells that could indicate cervical cancer.
Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are not at an increased risk for having abnormal Pap smears or cervical cancer and do not need to have the test performed more frequently. That does not mean that you can skip your yearly exam and regular Pap smear, however. Your healthcare provider will be able to advise you as to how frequently you should have a Pap smear done.
Your practitioner will consider including your age, medical and sexual history, and results from previous Pap smears. If you are healthy, over the age of 21 and have never had an abnormal Pap smear, your healthcare provider might only recommend that you have one every two to three years.
If you’ve ever had an abnormal Pap, your practitioner may recommend testing every year or even every four to six months. Some medical professionals will do the test every year as part of your well-woman visit, regardless of your age and medical history.
What Does a Pap Smear Test For?
During a Pap smear, your healthcare provider will take a swab and swipe the inside of the cervical canal to take a sample of the cells in the cervix. A specially trained laboratory technician will examine the cells and determine if they look like healthy cervical cells, or if they are beginning to look abnormal or like cancerous cells.
Sometimes your practitioner will also request that the sample is tested for HPV or human papillomavirus. A few strains of HPV are linked to developing cervical cancer later in life; this HPV test will only look for those specific strains.
Reducing the Risk of Cervical Cancer
There are several risk factors associated with an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. Actions you can take to reduce that risk include:
- Quit smoking. Women who smoke are more likely to develop cervical cancer, among other health problems. If you do smoke, speak with your healthcare provider about a smoking cessation program, or find other ways to make quitting easier.
- Vaccinate. There is a vaccination for HPV that can greatly reduce the risk of cervical cancer. Speak with your practitioner about whether you are a good candidate for receiving it and take the vaccine if you are.
- Visit your healthcare provider regularly. Having regular Pap smears (at your practitioner’s advice and discretion) is crucial to finding possible cervical cancer early in its development.
- Use condoms. The more sexual partners a woman has, the more likely she is to be exposed to HPV. This is especially true of women with PCOS who are on the pill or who do not get their period. Just because you are unlikely to get pregnant does not mean that you should avoid using birth control. It is still extremely important to use a form of barrier contraception (like a condom) to prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections.
What If I Have an Abnormal Pap?
Don’t panic. Just because the results of your Pap smear came back abnormal, it doesn’t mean that you have cervical cancer. It simply means that abnormal cells were detected in the cervical canal.
Depending on the degree of abnormality and what type of cell changes were detected in the smear, the healthcare provider may either recommend more frequent testing with a “watch and see” approach, or they may do further testing by taking a biopsy of the cervix.