One of the most common cancers afflicting women is cervical cancer, or cancer of the cervix. An early detection, however, can help a woman find complete cure, which is why screening for it is essential.
A Pap smear test is used for screening for cervical cancer, and is also done on women planning to have a baby.
Why is Pap smear test necessary?
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. A Pap smear test checks the cervix for any abnormal cell growth or changes, which can develop into cancer.
A regular Pap smear test is recommended for all women. It is also carried out before planning conception and repeated before another pregnancy to observe any changes in the cervix. It is best to identify any infection or abnormal cervical cells before a pregnancy and get it treated. Else, it may lead to termination of a pregnancy later or affect the health of the baby.
How is it done?
A woman is asked to lie down on her back on an examination table with feet raised up. The doctor (gynaecologist) inserts a lubricated speculum into the vagina to spread the vaginal walls apart. This allows the inside of vagina and cervix to be examined. Cell samples are collected from the cervix using a cotton swab or a small spatula. The collected sample is then smeared on a slide and sent to the laboratory for examination under a microscope.
There are hardly any risks involved in a Pap test. Slight vaginal bleeding may occur after the test, which can be dealt with by using a pad. Some women experience some discomfort upon insertion of the speculum and a pulling pressure when sample is being taken.
Results of a Pap smear test are usually available in one to two weeks’ time.
A woman’s age and medical history determines how often she should get a Pap test. Generally, women between ages 21 and 29 should get tested every three years, while women between the ages 30 and 64 should get a test done every five years. However, more frequent Pap smear tests may be required in cases of
- A weakened immune system due to steroid use, organ transplant or chemotherapy.
- Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy.
- Abnormal Pap test results in the past or cervical cancer history.
- HIV positive women.
A Pap smear test is a simple and easy diagnostic and preventative tool essential for monitoring a woman’s health. For women planning to conceive, it proves useful in detecting any problems early on for better treatment results.
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“Pap smear,” Mayoclinic.com, Mayo Clinic Staff, http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pap-smear/basics/definition/prc-20013038
“Pap test,” Womenshealth.gov, http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/pap-test.html
“Pap Tests and Cervical Health: A Healthy Habit for You,” Cancer.gov, National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/screening/pap-tests-cervical-health
“Pap Test,” WebMD.com, http://www.webmd.com/women/pap-test