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    Test Your PAP Smear IQ

    The first PAP smears were done over 60 years ago! Within the past decade we have seen the development of a vaccine reported to reduce the risk of cervical cancer, the widespread use of liquid based PAPs (“PAP in a bottle”), human papilloma virus (HPV) testing, and altered recommendations about when to do a PAP smear. So sharpen your pencils and test your PAP Smear IQ! Correct answers and scoring follow this “PAP Quiz”

    1. The time to begin getting PAP smears is either age 18 or shortly after you first have sex.
    2. A PAP can diagnose sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea or Chlamydia.
    3. Most forms of cervical cancer can be linked to the HPV virus.
    4. If I get the new HPV vaccine I don’t need to get PAP smears.
    5. By age 30, if a woman has had three, consecutive, normal PAPs she can drop down to PAP smears every two to three years.
    6. If a woman was exposed to the drug DES before birth, has HIV, or depressed immune function (e.g., on organ transplant drugs) she can now defer her PAP smears to every other year.
    7. About 50% of women with cervical cancer in the US had not had a PAP within the past five years.
    8. DNA tests for HPV are better able to discriminate the really worrisome cell changes than a PAP smear.
    9. The newer liquid based PAP smears are definitely better at identifying abnormal cells.
    10. Once you have had a hysterectomy you can stop getting PAP smears.


    1. False. This was true seven to nine years ago, but newer studies have suggested that HPV infections (linked to abnormal PAP smears) tend to resolve in younger women. This may be due to better immune system function which fights off the HPV more effectively. The recommendation to wait until three years after starting intercourse is based upon the hope that many HPV infections will be spontaneously cleared. Also, abnormal cervical cells do not progress quickly to cervical cancer – especially within three years.One well done study by Ho and colleagues (1998) followed older adolescents over three years. At the end of the study some 43% became HPV positive. This confirms the ease with which HPV can be passed between sexual partners. Surprisingly, of this group of newly infected women, only 9% continued to show persisting evidence of HPV.For women who have been assaulted or sexually molested while very young, it is important that they get a PAP smear earlier. If the assault was in childhood, she should get a PAP as a teenager for there are several factors which place her at increased risk for abnormal PAP smears.
    2. False. A PAP smear examines cells from the face of the cervix and the cervical canal. It does not diagnose chlamydia, gonorrhea or other sexually transmitted infections. A special test for HPV (considered a sexually transmitted infection) can be done using liquid left after doing a liquid based type of PAP smear.
    3. True. Most forms of cervical cancer have been linked to HPV. Particularly strong links exist between the high risk subtypes of HPV (e.g., subtypes 16 and 18). There are more than 30 types of HPV which are sexually transmitted. These have been classified into “low risk” and “high risk” subtypes. HPV subtypes 6 and 11 are considered to be low risk. They are linked primarily to the cauliflower-appearing genital warts, and low grade cervical lesions (e.g., LGSIL, CIN 1). Subtypes 16 and 18 are considered to be high risk as they are linked with persisting HPV infections and severely abnormal PAP smears. These two high risk subtypes are the probable cause of about 70% of cervical cancers.
    4. False. If one gets the newer vaccine designed to decrease the risk of cervical cancer, one is protected from HPV subtypes 16 and 18. One of the two versions of the vaccine will provide protection from subtypes 6 and 11 as well. Both vaccines have been shown in large research studies to provide 100% protection for the high risk subtypes. However, the vaccine does not cover all HPV subtypes (e.g., HPV subtypes numbered in the 30′s) which have been linked to persisting abnormal PAP smears. This is why PAP smears are still recommended even in those who have had the HPV vaccine.
    5. True. Between the time one gets her first PAP smear and age 30 or so, she should get PAP smears every one to three years. Then, if she has had three normal PAP smears in a row, she can drop back to PAP smears every two years or so. Once one is over the age of 30, a GYN may order an HPV test on her cervical cells. If the HPV test is positive it will likely be repeated within the next 6-12 months. A persisting HPV infection is correlated to abnormal cell changes-even if the PAP smear seems normal. By contrast, a normal PAP smear result coupled with a negative HPV test result suggests that cervical cancer is unlikely to emerge over the next several years.
    6. False. Unfortunately, women exposed to DES, or those who have conditions which suppress the immune system (e.g., HIV, organ transplant drugs) still need to have yearly PAP smears. Women whose mothers took DES while pregnant have an increased risk of an unusual type of cervical/vaginal cancer. Women with blunted immune system function are less likely to be able to clear HPV infections (new or old).
    7. True. Therefore it is important not to be lax about getting PAP smears within the required interval for your age. It should also be noted that some of the women who were found to have cervical cancer had NEVER had a PAP smear.
    8. True. DNA based tests for HPV are better at discriminating high grade cervical lesions than PAP smears. HPV test have a high degree of sensitivity (ability to detect HPV) of 94.6%. This is compared to a conventional PAP smears had a 55% sensitivity (Mayrand, 2007). However it costs more to do HPV testing, and more importantly, has a lower specificity (more “false positives”).
    9. False. Initially, most all studies reported liquid based PAP smears had a better ability to detect abnormal cervical cells. Currently over three fourths of PAP smears done in the US use this method rather than conventional PAP smears where a spatula collects cells which are smeared on a glass slide. There are other advantages of the liquid PAP method such as the ability to use leftover liquid if the GYN wants to order an HPV test as well.Recently Ronco and associates (2007) studied 45,000 Italian women, and determined that both liquid based and conventional PAP smears were equal in their ability to detect CIN 2 or higher. These are the more worrisome cervical cell changes. The liquid based PAPs were able to pick up more CIN 1 (less concerning), as well as decrease the number of unsatisfactory specimens.
    10. True & False. This was not meant to be a trick question. Whether one continues to need PAP smears after hysterectomy depends upon the reason for hysterectomy and the type of hysterectomy done. If the uterus and cervix were removed for a non-cancer condition (e.g., fibroids, endometriosis, abnormal bleeding) there is no need to continue getting PAP smears.By contrast, if surgery left the cervix in place (even if the hysterectomy was for benign reasons) PAP smears must be continued until the usual time of discontinuation (e.g., age 65-70). If the uterus and cervix were removed in a woman with CIN 2-3, she should have PAPs for a minimum of ten years after the surgery. For women who have had removal of cervix and uterus for a cancer, a PAP smear of the back wall of the vagina should be done until the woman is in frail health.

    So tally up your score of correct answers and give yourself a grade:

    100% – You probably work in a GYN office!
    90% – You could work in a GYN setting.
    60%-80% – Your PAP smear knowledge is way ahead of the average person.
    Less than 60% – Having learned more you can now educate your friends.

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