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A Pap smear is a microscopic examination of the cells collected as a sample from the uterine cervix. It is named after the doctor who created this screening test.
What Is Pap Smear Test?
Also called Pap test, Pap smear is a detection and examination procedure to determine the presence of cervical cancer. The Pap smear test is designed to detect the presence of cancerous or precancerous cells on the cervix (opening of the uterus).
The screening test involves scraping out cells from the cervix and then examining to check if there is any kind of abnormal growth.
Who Should Get A Pap Smear?
Women, who are more than 21 years of age, should ideally get regular Pap smears done. This serves as a great safety measure. Several women can be at the risk of cancer or infection, which can be identified through a Pap smear.
More frequent tests might be necessary in case a woman is HIV positive or has a weak immune system due to an organ transplant or chemotherapy.
Sometimes the test can be combined with a screening for HPV (human papillomavirus - that which causes warts). The presence of HPV might signal that you are at an increased risk of having cervical cancer.
Women who are 65 plus years of age and have had normal Pap test results in the past can stop these screening tests in the future.
However, you should continue with the Pap smears if you happen to be in a monogamous relationship.
What Does A Pap Smear Test Tell You?
Pap smear is the best way to detect the presence of cervical cancer. The purpose behind a Pap smear test is the identification of cellular changes that happen in the cervix. These changes could occur due to HPV.
Detection of cervical cancer cells early through this screening test ensures that treatment can be provided at the earliest so that it does not spread and lead to bigger problems.
The specimen collected for Pap smear can effectively test for HPV also. You get HPV after an intercourse with either a man or a woman. It is, therefore, necessary that a sexually active woman tests herself for HPV at least once every three years. The test, however, cannot detect other sexually transmitted diseases as such.
What Is The Best Time To Do Pap Smear?
As this is a screening test, there are certain guidelines to be followed. The following are some of the pointers that should be considered before you go ahead with a Pap smear test.
• Women who are between the age of 21 and 29 years should get a Pap smear test done once every three years. The HPV test can be excluded at this point.
• Women who are between the ages of 30 to 65 years should get a Pap smear test done along with the HPV test. The testing of both is referred to as co-testing. This should be done every five years. You can also get just the Pap test done once every three years. Nevertheless, the co-testing every five years is most ideal.
• After the age of 65 years, you can stop future Pap smear tests. This is, however, only if you do not have any history of abnormal cervical cells.
However, the risks of cervical cancer can be more for a few women. Some of the reasons are cited below.
• Family history of cervical cancer
• A Pap smear test that has shown precancerous cells
• Infection by HIV
• Weak immune system due to reasons such as organ transplant or chemotherapy
• Early onset of intercourse
• More than one sexual partner
• Sexually transmitted illness
• Previous cancer of the genital tract
• Exposure to DES (drug used to prevent miscarriage) before birth
Women who fall under any of the above-mentioned categories should get more frequent Pap smear tests done.
How Is A Pap Smear Test Done?
The overall Pap smear test would just take less than a minute. The procedure is done at the doctor's clinic. The procedure includes the following steps.
• The woman is laid on the examination table with knees bent. An instrument called speculum is used to open the vagina. A sample of mucus is obtained from the cervix using a scraper or a brush.
• A Pap smear called ThinPrep test is generally used at all modern clinics wherein the sample can be rinsed into a vial and then sent to the laboratory for test.
• A cytologist reviews the sample and provides the result in a laboratory-generated report.
Is Pap Smear Test Painful?
The test might cause slight discomfort when done. But most women just feel a mild pressure and nothing more. Staying relaxed helps. Practice slow breathing. You should concentrate on relaxing your legs and stomach during the procedure. Ideally, the procedure is not painful.