A Pap test or Pap smear is a procedure to screen for the presence of any cancerous cervix cells. Pap is named after Dr. Georgios Papanikolaou who discovered this useful way of detecting signs of cervical cancer. During the screening procedure, cervix cells are gently scraped away, then examined for abnormal growth.
Reasons to get a Pap Smear
The main cause of cervical cancer is HPV (human papillomavirus), a virus that causes warts. There are a hundred different types of HPV, 40 that are transmitted sexually. Even though a Pap test doesn’t screen for HPV, it can identify cell growth changes caused by the virus.
Detection of cervical cancer cells early with a Pap test is important so that treatment can start before it spreads. Sexually active women are at risk for being infected with HPV and should get a Pap test every three years. Pap test can’t detect other STDs. It can however detect cell growth which indicates other forms of cancer, but it’s not designed for that purpose.
Who Needs a Pap Test?
Generally, you should start getting regular Pap tests when you reach age 21. Women, who are HIV-positive and have undergone chemotherapy or organ transplant, may need more frequent pap tests because their weakened immune system may lead to a higher risk of infections and cancer.
Women over 30 who have had three normal Pap smear results in a row may have one test every five years. Women over age 65 with normal test results history may stop having Pap tests in the future.
Pap Smear Preparation
Schedule a Pap test appointment with your gynecologist. If you’ll have your monthly period on the day of your Pap test, reschedule the test because results could be less accurate. Avoid having sexual intercourse and taking contraceptives the day before your test because these may interfere your results.
Pap tests aren’t painful, but they can be a little bit uncomfortable. Don’t worry– they’re pretty quick. On an examination table, you’ll lie on your back with your legs spread with your feet resting in stirrups for support. Your doctor will slowly insert a speculum device into your vagina, so the vaginal walls are open and provide access to the cervix. Your doctor will then scrape a small number of cells from your cervix using a spatula. You will feel a slight push and pain during the quick scraping.
The sample cells from your cervix will be preserved and will be screened for any presence of abnormal cells. You might feel mild discomfort right from the scraping. Some experience light bleeding in the vagina immediately after the test. Make sure to inform your doctor if bleeding continues the day after the test.
Pap Test Results
Pap test results could be normal or abnormal. Normal results won’t need a Pap test for another three years. Abnormal test results don’t mean you have a cancer. It simply means you have abnormal cervix cells, and they could be precancerous. Depending on the result of the test, your doctor may recommend frequent Pap tests or getting a closer look at your cervical tissue with Colposcopy to check vaginal and cervical tissues more clearly.
Pap tests are very accurate and regular screenings will help reduce cervical cancer risk. Like most of medical testing, it’s unpleasant, but the brief discomfort is not a reason to neglect your well-being. Getting regular Pap tests is the best way to protect your health.