What’s a pap smear and why do I need to do it? Why do I need to get my breasts pancaked every 1-2 years? As a woman, these are probably questions you have on a yearly basis. Every woman knows they need to get pap smears, breast exams, and mammograms, but do you really know why?
These are known as screenings, and they do just that: screen for cancers.
A pap smear is a screen for cervical cancer, which is in the cervix, the opening to the uterus. Cervical cancer is commonly caused by a virus called HPV. HPV is transmitted through sexual contact, and males do not know they have it. More importantly, some condoms do not protect against the transmission of this virus. The pap smear looks for HPV and if there are any changes to the cells of the cervix. Some people, especially young females, can clear the virus over time.
Pap smear guidelines have changed frequently throughout the years, but the current recommendations have been around for some time now. Every female, including any person who has female body parts, needs to have a pap smear starting at the age of 21, regardless of sexual activity. They are repeated every 3-5 years depending on age and what kind of DNA test was done. If a female has not been sexually active, then a conversation must be started with your doctor regarding when it is best to have a pap. Cervical cancer is a slow growing cancer, and is very preventable, if caught early. That is why it is very important that this exam be done.
A mammogram screens for breast cancer. Starting at age 40, every woman needs to get this exam every 1-2 years. Yes, the breasts are squished between two x-ray panels, which makes this a very uncomfortable exam, but nonetheless a very important one. Some women have dense breasts, which may require more testing to make sure any cancers are properly seen. Dense breasts are normal and do not mean you have a higher risk of getting cancer. What does make you at higher risk? Family history, especially close relatives. Any changes to the breasts, like lumps that you or your partner may feel, can also mean something is wrong. That’s why it is very important to discuss with your doctor about any family history and any changes you notice yourself, and get your mammogram!
Don’t forget, you also need to make sure you get your yearly bloodwork to check your cholesterol, kidneys, liver, and thyroid- everything in your body is connected, and you have to make sure your WHOLE body is healthy and problem free!