The Pap test (Papanicolaou smear) is an examination that is used to detect cervical cancer and precancerous conditions of the cervix. If a Pap test detects a precancerous condition (a change on the surface of the cervix that can lead to cancer), your doctor can treat or remove the abnormal tissue to prevent cervical cancer. If a Pap test detects a cervical cancer in its early stages, it may be possible to treat and cure your cancer before it has a chance to spread.
In almost all cases, precancerous changes or cancer on the surface of the cervix are caused by a virus infection called human papilloma virus (HPV). Some types of HPV cause genital warts, and some types of HPV can cause cancer. Most people who are infected with HPV do not have symptoms, but they can spread the virus to others. HPV is spread through sexual contact with an infected person.
Women can be tested for HPV. The doctor uses a cotton swab or small brush to collect cells from the surface of the cervix. The sample is sent to the laboratory to be tested for the presence of HPV DNA.
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