PAP Smears!

Yikesz! I know most of us would be scared to go see a doctor and have regular medical check ups…Afraid we’ll find out something that might cause other serious diseases, infections or illnesses. Even worst, CANCER!!

Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related disease and death among women worldwide. The best way to detect cervical cancer is by having regular Papanicolaou tests, or Pap Smears. { Pap is a shortened version of the name of the doctor who developed the screening test. } A pap smear is a microscopic examination of cells taken from the cervix.

A pap smear can detect certain viral infections (such as human papillomavirus [HPV]) and other cancer-causing conditions. Early treatment of these conditions can stop cervical cancer before it fully develops. A woman may have cervical cancer and not know it because she may not have any symptoms.

The incidence of cancer and deaths from cervical cancer has significantly declines over the years because of prevention, screening, and early detection by the Pap smear. Risks factors for cancer of the cervix include the following:

  • Multiple sexual partners { or sexual partners who have had multiple partners }
  • Starting sexual intercourse at an early age
  • Viral infection such as HPV, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or herpers simplex virus(HSV)
  • Weakened immune system
  • Previous cancer of lower genital tract
  • Smoking

Cervical cancer screening is recommended yearly starting when women are aged 18 years, or when they become sexually active if younger than 18 years! Physicians may screen a woman less frequently if she had negative Pap smear results 3 years in a row or is not sexually active.

No upper age limit for screening exists because the incidence of cancer of the cervix increases with age at a time when women may be less likely to get a Pap smear. Diagnosis of most of these cancers is in women older than 50 years. Even after menopause, a woman should continue to have regular Pap smears.

The Pap smear procedure is not complicated or painful despite what people may think. The only risk is not detecting cervical cancer in time to treat and cure it!

The Preparation

The best time to have a Pap smear is when the woman is not menstruating. A woman could ask for a female doctor if that would make her feel more comfortable. For 2 days before the test, avoid the following because these might hide any abnormal cells:

  • Intercourse
  • Douches
  • Vaginal medications (except as directed by your doctor)
  • Vaginal contraceptives such as birth control foams, creams or jellies

During the Procedure

A Pap smear is usually part of a pelvic exam and accompanied by a breast exam performed by the health care provider. It should only take about 1 minute to perform a Pap smear during this overall exam.

  • The woman will lie on the examination table on her back with her knees up and bent and her feet in stirrups (rests). While she is lying on an examination table, her health care provider will use a small metal or plastic instrument called a speculum to open the vagina so that the walls of the vagina and cervix can be seen clearly.

Correct position on an exam table for the Pap test.

  • A sample of mucus and cells will be obtained from the cervix (the part of the uterus that extends into the vagina) and endocervix (the opening of the cervix) using a wooden scraper or a small cervical brush or broom.

The doctor removes cells from the cervix for testing.

  • The sample of cells is evenly applied to a glass slide and sprayed with a fixative. This sample is sent to the lab for close and careful examination under a microscope. If the doctor is using a new kind of Pap smear called a ThinPrep test, the sample is rinsed into a vial and sent to a lab for slide preparation and examination.
  • A cytologist (a specialist trained to look at the cells and interpret a Pap smear) reviews both types of tests.
  • Some discomfort during the test may occur. Most women feel nothing at all or feel pressure. Staying relaxed will help stop any discomfort. The woman should breathe slowly and concentrate on relaxing her stomach and legs.
  • A Pap smear should not be painful. If experiencing pain during the test, the woman should tell her doctor.

When to Seek Medical Care

Early cervical pre-cancers and cancer often have no signs or symptoms. Therefore, it is important to have regular Pap smears. Symptoms usually appear when the cancer has progressed.

The following symptoms must be reported to a health care provider right away:

  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Blood spots or light bleeding other than a normal period
  • Bleeding or pain during sex

These symptoms do not conclude that someone has cancer. Other condition may cause these symptoms, but a check-up is necessary to determine the cause.

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