Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in women. It is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in women, especially in developing countries. Pap smear is a screening test to detect cervical cancer as well as conditions predisposing to cervical cancer.
The importance of the Pap smear is reflected by the fact that it can detect cervical cancer at an earlier stage making it possible for us to cure the disease effectively. Pap smear can also detect the changes in the cells that suggest the development of cervical cancer in the future, thereby allowing us to intervene and stop the development of cervical cancer.
How Pap smear is performed?
What we do is we use an instrument called speculum to open the vagina and visualize the cervix. Then we use another instrument called spatula and a small brush to collect the sample of cells from the cervix. These cells are then subjected to examination under a microscope in the laboratory. Although this is a pain-free procedure you might feel slight discomfort.
What are the things you have to avoid before performing Pap smear?
There are certain things that you can avoid before performing Pap smear in order to make the test results more accurate.
- Avoid sex for 48 hours before the test
- Avoid vaginal creams for 48 hours before the test
What are the appropriate timings for having Pap smear?
Pap smear is usually done for the first time at the age of 21. It is done every three years there onward up to 65 years of age.
If you are a high-risk candidate for cervical cancer such as if you are HIV positive, you have cancer and you are receiving chemotherapy for that, if you were exposed to diethylstilbestrol or if you are using steroids you are supposed to get pap smear more frequently. If you are older than 30, you also can be tested for HPV, which also can cause genital and anal warts.
How to Interpret the Test Results?
A normal test means your cervix is absolutely normal and there is nothing for you to worry about. If the test is not normal even this does not mean that you have cancer right away. There are certain factors which can give you false positive test results. This is when you will be required to repeat the test and get some additional workup for further assessment.
Who can stop getting Pap smear?
There are certain situations where a woman can stop getting Pap smear, such as:
It is the removal of the uterus completely along with the cervix. If it is removed for a non-cancerous condition such as fibroids you may discontinue having pap smears. However, if your uterus was removed because of cancer you will need to continue having Pap smears despite hysterectomy.
Once you cross the age of 65 your likelihood of getting cervical cancer is decreased. At this point, your doctor can stop you from having Pap smears provided you had regular screening with normal results previously.
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