Regular Pap smears can help prevent cervical cancer

Cervical cancer was once one of the most deadly forms of cancer among American women. Now, an easy screening exists that has significantly reduced the incidence and mortality rate associated with cervical cancer in the United States–the Pap smear.

Val Petrosian, MD

Pap screens are recommended for any sexually active female age 21 or over. Dr. Val Petrosian, a gynecologist for Northwell Health Physician Partners/Westchester Health, recommends that all patients under the age of 65 come in for screening every three years. For those 65 and older, no testing is required if the screenings over the prior 20 years show no abnormalities.

“The main benefit of the screening is to detect abnormal cells and get rid of them in a timely fashion, before they turn into cancer,” Dr. Petrosian said. “In the United States cervical cancer is almost impossible to get if one is having regular screenings because we are aggressive with screening and treatment. It is more prevalent in women who do not see their gynecologist regularly.”

Regular screening is of particular importance to patients with risk factors such as first sexual activity before the age of 21, multiple sexual partners, a partner or personal history with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or human papillomavirus (HPV), smoking, heavy alcohol use, and any immunosuppression.

Unlike other STDs, condom use may decrease transmission of HPV but does not completely eliminate the risk. Over 90% of cervical cancer is acquired sexually through HPV. However, cervical cancer is very preventable with regular screenings, of which the Pap smear is the only commonly used method.

“There are two parts to a Pap test: looking at the cells and testing for the presence of HPV,” Petrosian said. “When examining the results of a Pap smear, we look at whether HPV is present and its effect on the cells–if the cells are normal, or if they are moderately or severely abnormal.”

The screenings themselves are quick, using a soft brush to collect cells from the outer and inner cervix. A Pap smear requires no special preparation. The test itself may feel somewhat uncomfortable but is not painful. Due to the normal anatomic and physiologic variations of the cervix, some patients may experience mild spotting after the procedure.

Remember, cervical cancer is easily preventable through a simple, regular Pap smear.

To schedule an appointment for your next Pap smear, contact Dr. Petrosian’s Mt. Kisco office at (914) 241-4900 or visit us online at

By Valery Petrosian, MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Northwell Health Physician Partners/Westchester Health