The Pap Test, also known as the Pap Smear, is a cytology-based cancer screening, which is an essential part of a woman’s routine health care because it can detect cancer or abnormalities that may lead to cancer of the cervix if left untreated.

Like any screening test, cervical cancer screening is not always completely accurate. Sometimes the results will report a finding of abnormal cells when the cells are actually normal (a false-positive result), or a finding of normal cells when in fact there is an abnormality that was not detected (a false-negative result).

There are several factors that may affect the accuracy of the screening results:

1. Timing of the testing – The best time for collecting the sample of cervical cells is 10 to 20 days after the first day of the patient’s last menstrual cycle.

2. Sexual intercourse – Should be avoided by the patient two days prior to collecting the sample.

3. Douching or using vaginal medicines, foams, creams or jellies – Should not be used by the patient two days prior to collecting the sample.

The best success rate for preventative health care is achieved when patients provide a complete medical history to their physician and also discuss when to start screening and how often to be screened to minimize the harms caused by treating abnormalities that would never progress to cancer while also limiting false-negative results that would delay the diagnosis and treatment of a precancerous condition or cancer.

Credit: Medical Diagnostic Laboratories LLC