A Moment of Science

Pap Smears

A pap smear is a very important test for women to have each year.

Let me fill you in the details. Pap smears are named after New York gynecologist George Papanicolaou, who introduced the procedure. Since it’s introduction in the 1940′s, the Pap smear is believed to have decreased the number of deaths due to cervical cancer by more than 70%.

During pap smears, the doctor brushes or lightly scrapes the woman’s cervix in order to remove a sample of cells, which he or she then spreads onto one or more glass slides. 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. Most abnormalities, however, are more minor and go away on their own without causing the patient any harm.

It’s possible for a Pap smear to spot an abnormality that is already cancerous. The reason it’s so important for a woman to have a Pap smear annually is that the Pap smear is valuable in helping doctors to 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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