The pap smear or the pap test is done to detect cervical cancer at its early stages. All sexually active women are advised to have this screening test. The cervix is located at the lower end of the uterus and at the top of the vagina. Cervical cancer is very common and can be cured completely if detected at an early stage. A pap smear is an ideal screening test. During this test, some cells are taken from the cervix with the help of a special spatula and then these are examined under the microscope to detect the presence of any abnormal or cancerous cells. Pap smear can detect cervical cancer at a very early stage but can it detect STDs?
Can a Pap Smear Detect STDs?
There is only one sexually transmitted disease or STD which can be detected by a pap smear, and that is the human papilloma virus (HPV). Basically a pap smear is not designed to detect STDs, and it can only detect the presence of abnormal cervical cells. A negative pap smear does not mean that the person is free of all STDs. Since women infected with human papilloma virus (HPV-16 & HPV-18) are at a greater risk of developing cervical cancer, sometimes an HPV test is also done along with a pap smear. If the HPV is positive in any pap test sample, a procedure will be performed to remove the affected cells. By this way, the risk of developing cervical cancer can be reduced.
If you have recently got a negative pap smear and are sexually active, this does not mean that you do not have an STD and regular STD screening is advised.
What STD Testing Should You Do?
Can a pap smear detect STDs? Now you know the answer. You should still get screened for STDs even you got a negative result for pap smear. You need different tests for different diseases and risk factors.
1. Chlamydia and Gonorrhea
Annual chlamydia and gonorrhea screening is advised for:
- All sexually active women below 25 years of age
- Women older than 25 years but have multiple partners or have recently had a new partner
- Gay men
- Anyone who is HIV positive
- Victims of sexual abuse or rape
There can be no overt signs or symptoms of chlamydia or gonorrhea infection, and the only way to know if someone has the infection is to get tested. The infection can be detected by a urine test or by screening a swab taken from the cervix or from inside of the penis.
2. HIV, Syphilis and Hepatitis
According to the latest guidelines about STD testing, every individual should get HIV screening once in a life time especially those who are 15-65 years old. Young people with an increased risk of exposure should also get tested. All adults who are at risk of getting HIV infection need to get tested for the virus at least once a year.
Hepatitis screening is also very important because hepatitis B and C often have no symptoms and can lead to severe liver damage. Anyone born between 1945 and 1965 should get tested for hepatitis C as the incidence is the greatest in this age group.
Can a pap smear detect STDs? If you want to know whether you get HIV, syphilis or hepatitis, a pap smear is obviously not working. You should take blood tests in this condition, and these screening tests are advised in case you:
- Have detected any other STDs
- Have multiple sexual partners
- Is a gay man
- Are an I/V drug user
- Are a victim of rape or sexual abuse
- Are a pregnant woman or are trying to get pregnant
3. Genital Herpes
There is no specific test to detect genital herpes. These genital ulcers or blisters are caused by a virus and sometimes the person infected with the virus does not have any visible ulcers. The best way to test is to take a sample directly from the genital ulcer. The test can be negative but it does not confirm the absence of genital herpes.
A blood test can also be done, but the results are frequently inconclusive. There are two types of virus which can lead to the formation of genital herpes. Type 1 virus usually leads to cold sores formation but can cause genital ulcers, while type 2 virus is responsible for genital ulcers. The sensitivity of the blood tests varies greatly and there are chances of false positive or false negative results.
Can a pap smear detect STDs? HPV is the only STD which can be detected. The exposure to HPV increases the risk of developing cervical cancer. There are many types of HPV, and some varieties can lead to the formation of genital warts. This virus is also linked with other cancers such as the cancer of vagina, vulva, anus, penis, throat and mouth. There can be no signs or symptoms, and almost every sexually active person will get infected with some form of HPV during the lifetime.
There is no particular screening test for HPV available for men. The virus is detected by examining the warts visually.
In women the HPV screening is combined with a pap smear and every woman with an abnormal pap test result should be screened for HPV.
5. At-Home STD Testing
Kits are available for collecting samples at home. The urine test, or an oral or genital swab can be taken at home, which will then be sent to the lab for further testing. The advantage is that you do not need to go to a clinic, and you can take the sample in your home privately. However, the results are not absolutely reliable.
There are more chances of having a false positive result, which means that your test results can be positive even if you do not have an STD. If your results are negative, but you have some symptoms associated with any STDs, you need to get tested at the STD clinic for confirmation.