Pap Smear and HPV Test

icon of gynecological tools

Cervical cancer screenings are an essential part of a woman’s health care routine. At Louisiana Women’s Healthcare, cervical cancer screening may include a Pap smear (Pap Test), testing for a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV), or both. These tools help your physician identify suspicious cells in your cervix that could signal a precancerous condition. Cervical cancer is preventable when detected early.

What is a pap smear?

A Pap smear is a medical exam used to determine if a woman has cervical cancer.  It’s performed by your physician at Louisiana Women’s Healthcare, usually as part of a general pelvic exam. During a Pap test, your physician collects cells from your cervix. These cells are then analyzed by a lab for any abnormalities. The goal of the pap test is to identify cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancers if not treated appropriately.

What is HPV screening?

Most abnormal cell changes that show up on a Pap test are caused by HPV.  HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and can lead to cervical cancer.  A Pap test is not designed to detect HPV, so at Louisiana Women’s Healthcare we test for HPV in addition to your Pap test depending on your age. This increases the odds of detecting or preventing cervical cancer. 

Who should undergo cervical cancer screening?

  • If you are 21 to 29 years old: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends you should start getting Pap tests at age 21.  If your Pap test result is normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait three years until your next Pap test.
  • If you are 30 to 65: After three completely normal and satisfactory Pap tests, you may be able to:
    • Have a Pap test and an HPV test (co-testing) every 5 years
    • Have a Pap test alone every 3 years
    • Have an HPV test alone every 5 years

Women 30-65 are still encouraged to see their gynecologist every year for an exam.

  • If you are 65 or older: Further Pap tests are needed only if your physician directly orders more tests or you have concerning symptoms.

What happens if my pap test results are abnormal?

If the results of your Pap test come back positive, that means your doctor found abnormal or unusual cells on your cervix. It does not necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. Most often, abnormal test results are triggered by cell changes caused by HPV. To diagnose or rule out cervical cancer, your doctor may order two additional tests:

  • Colposcopy: A procedure that allows your physician to take a closer look at your cervix
  • Biopsy: A procedure to remove tissue from the cervix to test for abnormal or precancerous conditions

Detecting cervical cancer early at Louisiana Women’s Healthcare

The best way to find cervical cancer early is to have regular screening tests. At Louisiana Women’s Healthcare, our thorough screening methods can help detect women’s health issues earlier, greatly improving your chances of successful treatment of pre-cancers and cancer. Schedule an appointment online, through MyOchsner, or by phone (225) 201-2010.