A Moment of Science

The Importance Of Pap Smears

In case you didn't know already, there are good reasons for why doctors perform Pap smears.

Microscope slide showing cancerous cells from the cervix.

Photo: Ed Uthman (flickr)

These cancerous cells were the result of human pamplona virus (HPV)

A Pap smear is an important test for women to undergo regularly.

What’s With The Name?

Pap smears are named after New York gynecologist George Papanicolaou, who introduced the procedure. Since the procedure’s introduction in the 1940′s, the Pap smear is believed to have saved lots and lots of lives.

During pap smears, the doctor brushes or lightly scrapes a woman’s cervix in order to remove a sample of cells, which he or she then spreads onto one or more glass slides.

Lab Work

The sample is sent to a lab where an expert looks at the slide under a microscope. What that expert is looking for are abnormalities in the cells. Sometimes an abnormality can mean that the area is cancerous or will become cancerous.

The reason it’s so important for women to have Pap smears is that it helps doctors spot minor abnormalities before they get the chance to possibly turn into cancer. If a woman’s Pap does come back abnormal, her doctor will probably do further testing to see more clearly what’s going on, and then will decide whether she needs further monitoring or treatment.

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