Brenda Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA
A Pap smear is a test used to screen for cervical cancer. Cells collected from the cervix -- the opening at the lower end of your womb that leads into your vagina -- are examined under the microscope to look for cancer or abnormalities that may lead to cancer. Although Pap smears can detect some types of infections, the test cannot detect the human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is detected by a specific test using blood, urine or fluid from your mouth.
Pap smears are recommended at varying intervals for most women ages 21 to 65. A Pap smear does not detect HIV, but having both tests is important for your health. If you are HIV-positive, your risk of having an abnormal Pap smear increases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Therefore, your doctor may perform an HIV test if you have an abnormal Pap smear. Additionally, if you are HIV-positive, your doctor may recommend more frequent Pap smears. Women with HIV have increased risk of developing cervical cancer.
CDC and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend regular, routine HIV screening from age 15 through 65. Screening is highly recommended if you are pregnant or at high risk for HIV infection. Several types of HIV tests are available. You may have a relatively easy and inexpensive screening test done first. If the test comes back positive, additional testing is done to confirm the result and determine if you are truly HIV-positive. Your doctor may recommend HIV testing when you go for your routine Pap smear.