Your doctor can use a Pap smear or liquid-based cytology test to screen for cervical dysplasia (precancer) and cervical cancer.
A typical Pap smear involves four steps:
- The doctor inserts a lubricated instrument into your vagina to enlarge the opening.
- He or she takes a sample of mucus and cells by gently scraping your cervix.
- The doctor sends the tissue samples to a lab for analysis.
- If any irregularities are found, your doctor will suggest next steps.
A Pap smear test isn’t usually painful, although some women experience minor discomfort.
Getting regular Pap smears helps your doctor detect any changes in the cells of your cervix, including the presence of the HPV virus. Early detection can affect your treatment options if cancerous changes are detected in the cervix. At MSK we strongly recommend that even women who have been vaccinated against HPV get regular Pap smears.
Liquid-based cytology (for example, ThinPrep®) can detect changes in the cervix as well as testing for HPV. If your Pap smear reveals that you have something called atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS), liquid-based cytology can give a more complete picture of what’s going on.
The first part of liquid-based cytology is similar to a Pap smear. Your doctor inserts a lubricated instrument into the vagina and gently removes a tissue sample. The key difference from a Pap smear is that the tissue sample that gets sent to the lab is of a higher quality because it has been placed in a special liquid, processed in a machine, and then placed on a slide for examination.
These types of tests are an effective way to detect any changes and understand what’s happening in your cervix so that we can take quick action to stop any more growth or changes in the tissue. They’re also vital for diagnosing and customizing a treatment plan for you.