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Do your part to ensure an accurate Pap smear

Since the Pap smear became widely used in the early 1940s, the death rate for women with cervical cancer has decreased by more than 70 percent. This is largely because the test can detect cervical cancer at an early stage and can even detect abnormal cells that put a woman at higher risk of developing cervical cancer. To increase the effectiveness of the Pap smear, follow this advice from the American Cancer Society:

1. If you are 21 or older, get regular Pap tests and pelvic exams. While most women should have a Pap and pelvic exam once a year (or every two years using the newer liquid-based Pap test), your doctor may recommend that you have them more or less often, depending on your history.

2. The best time to schedule a Pap test is between 10 and 20 days after the first day of your menstrual period.

3. For two days before the test, don’t douche, use tampons, vaginal medications or other agents that are instilled into the vagina. They may wash away or hide abnormal cells.

4. Take showers, not baths, for 48 hours before the test.