A Pap smear test is a screening procedure for cervical cancer; it is to check for the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells on your cervix, which is the opening of the uterus.
Also, the cells from your cervix are gently scraped and examined for abnormal growth. It may be mildly uncomfortable for a while, but there is nothing to freak out about; the procedure is done at the doctor’s office.
So what’s the fuss about having a Pap smear test? Keep reading to find out more.
Who needs to take the test?
According to a Screening for Cervical Cancer US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement, women should get regular Pap smears every three years starting at age 21. However, some women may be at increased risk of infection or cancer — women who are HIV-positive or who have a weakened immune system from chemotherapy or an organ transplant.
Furthermore, women over 30 and have not had abnormal Pap tests, should ask their doctors about having one every five years if the test is combined with a human papillomavirus (HPV) screening.
Human papillomavirus is a virus that causes warts and increases the risk of cervical cancer. HPV types 16 and 18 are the leading causes of cervical cancer. Unfortunately, you may be at risk of developing cervical cancer if you have HPV.
Women who are up to 65 years and over with a history of normal Pap smear results may be able to stop having the test in the future. Basically, women should get regular Pap smears on your age, regardless of their sexual activity status. It is necessary because the HPV virus can be dormant for years and then suddenly become active.
Nonetheless, women who have had a hysterectomy with removal of the cervix and no history of cervical cancer do not need screening. Recommendations vary and should be personalized for women with compromised immune systems or a history of precancerous or cancerous lesions.
What to expect during a Pap smear?
Pap smear test is quick and but can be uncomfortable, especially when it is your first time. During the test, your doctor will ask you to lie on your back on an examination table with your legs spread and your feet resting in supports called stirrups.
Once you settled in, your doctor slowly inserts a speculum, a device that keeps the vaginal walls open and provides access to the cervix.
Your doctor scrapes a small sample of cells from your cervix, and he does it using any of these methods;
- Some doctors use a medical spatula
- Some use a device called a cytobrush (a combination of spatula and brush)
- Others use both a spatula and a brush
You might feel a slight push and irritation during the brief scraping; it is normal; it will go away. Some women experience very light vaginal bleeding immediately following the test, so let your doctor know if discomfort or bleeding continues after the day of the test.
The sample of cells from the cervix will be preserved and sent to a lab to be tested for the presence of abnormal cells.
How to prepare for the test?
Here are some helpful tips that will help you prepare better for the Pap smear test
If you are menstruating, inform your doctor beforehand because it may affect your results. However, if you will be menstruating on the day of the test, your doctor may want to reschedule the test, since the results could be inaccurate.
Do not douche or use spermicidal products or have intercourse before you take the test; they may interfere with the result.
If you are pregnant, it is safe to have a pap smear in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Anything later than 24 weeks will be more painful. You should wait until 12 weeks after birth to increase the accuracy of the result.
Please take deep breaths and try to stay calm; pap smears go smoothly if you are relaxed. So, to avoid unnecessary pains, try to relax during the procedure.
How to understand a Pap smear result
Basically, you have possible two results from a Pap smear, which are normal and abnormal.
Normal Pap smear
Normal results are sometimes referred to as negative; if your result is normal/negative, it means no abnormal cells were identified. Also, if the result comes out negative, it means you will not need a Pap smear for another three years.
Abnormal Pap smear
If the test results are abnormal, it means there are abnormal cells on your cervix and some of which could be precancerous. No, it does not necessarily mean you have cancer.
In addition, there are several levels of abnormal cells:
- Severe dysplasia
- Carcinoma in situ
Milder abnormal cells are common than severe abnormalities. The doctor’s recommendation depends on what the test results show.
However, they may recommend you increase the frequency of your Pap smears or get a closer look at your cervical tissue with a procedure called colposcopy
A colposcopy requires the doctor to use light and magnification to see vaginal and cervical tissues more clearly.
However, some tests require them to take a sample of your cervical tissue in a procedure called a biopsy.
What is the accuracy of a Pap smear test?
Pap smear is accurate; regular pap screenings reduce cervical cancer rates and mortality by at least 80%. It can be uncomfortable, but the brief discomfort can protect your health.
Can Pap smear detect HPV?
The primary purpose of a Pap test is to detect cellular changes in the cervix that could be caused by HPV.
Early identification of cervical cancer cells with a Pap smear can help to start treatment early, which will control the cancer cells before it spreads. It is also possible to test for HPV from the Pap smear specimen.
Furthermore, to reduce the risk of contracting HPV, it is necessary to practice sex with a condom or other barrier methods.
Sexually active women are at risk of contracting HPV and should get a Pap smear at least every three years whether they are having sex with men or women.
Please note that you cannot detect other sexually transmitted infections with a Pap smear test, even though it can detect cell growth that indicates other cancers.
So, go for the appropriate test or consult your doctor for more information. You can also check other health-related articles here