Pap Smear And STDs

May 28, 2009

Regular Pap smear tests are a must for all sexually active women up until the age of around 60. If you check out our sections on the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV), and on gynecological testing, you’ll soon understand why. Pap smear tests can tell you whether or not you have contracted HPV. HPV is linked to cervical cancer and can cause abnormal (namely pre-cancerous or cancerous) cells to develop in the cervix (the opening of the uterus). It is these abnormal cells which show up on a Pap smear test. This allows your doctor to intervene to prevent further abnormal development of the cells. Even though HPV is an STD, it’s important to remember that other sexually transmitted infections are not detected in a Pap smear test. Most sexually active women are aware of the need to take a Pap smear test once every couple of years, but are perhaps not aware of the need to take additional STD testing.

Misplaced Confidence

No one looks forward to taking a Pap smear test – although necessary and, most of the time, fairly painless, the test is a little unpleasant. Therefore, we’re very happy if we get our results a little while later and we have the “all clear,”- no signs of cervical cancer, therefore everything is alright – right? This is not necessarily true. HPV is the only STD which may show up on a Pap smear. Even if the Pap smear indicates that you do have abnormal cells, you may have to take an additional test specifically for HPV. Although some gynecologists do routine testing for other STDs alongside the Pap smear, not all of them do. You need to be sure exactly which tests you’ve had and which you haven’t. Remember that some STDs show up only in blood tests or urine tests, so the cervical swab in the Pap smear test would have no chance of finding them. Ask your doctor if you have any doubts.

STD Testing

Yet, many of us, even if we’ve had sex with more than one person, consider more wide-ranging STD testing only if we want to stop using condoms with our current sexual partner. Depending on your sexual behavior over the course of the average year, this may not be adequate. If you’ve had any new partners at all, even if they’ve told you they’ve been tested, you need to make sure that your body is ok. Some STDs, such as Chlamydia, can work away inside the female body without presenting any outward symptoms and, if left untreated, may lead to female infertility. This is why it’s important to see STD testing as a method of assessing your overall health year by year, not just a “double-check” to make sure it’s ok to put the condoms away and forget about them.

When To Take A Pap Smear

You should take regular Pap smear tests if you are over 21 years of age and no later than three years after the first time you have sex. Throughout your 20s, you should take Pap smears either as often as your doctor recommends (he or she may think once every two or three years is enough), or once a year, if that’s what you feel comfortable with (be assertive with your doctor about this). Between the ages of 30 and 69, a Pap smear once every two to three years is considered adequate if you have had three consecutive, normal smears tests and no new sexual partners. If you ever get abnormal smear results, your doctor will decide on the next course of action and will probably bring you in more frequently for a Pap smear test.

When To Take A STD Test

If you’re sexually active, it’s a good idea to make your STD testing something you take care of at around the same time of year as your Pap smear. If you have had a new sexual partner in the period since your last STD test, always take another STD test at the end of year. Regardless of whether or not you have had a new partner, take a test if you develop any of the following symptoms:

Growths, sores, warts or blisters on the genitals

Unusual vaginal discharge (for example, itchy with a different color or smell)

Abdominal pain accompanied by fever and unusual vaginal discharge (these could be symptoms of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, which can be caused by STDs).

When you go to see your doctor, tell him you want general STD screening, including a HIV test.

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