What is a Pap Smear?
A Pap smear is a simple, quick and relatively painless screening test. Detecting cervical cancer early with a Pap smear gives you a greater chance at a cure. A Pap test can also detect changes in your cervical cells that suggest cancer may develop in the future.
Detecting these abnormal cells early with a Pap smear is your first step in halting the possible development of cervical cancer. However, you shouldn’t worry as Pap testing has saved the lives of many women. Pap smears prove effective at detecting precancerous lesions, which represent early and still very treatable indicators of cervical cancer risk.
Occasionally a Pap report will show an infection caused by yeast or bacteria, or even some changes in your vaginal tissues due to low estrogen levels in menopause. These results are easily dealt with and are unrelated to HPV or cervical cancer.
Why are Pap tests done?
A Pap smear, along with a pelvic examination, is an important part of a woman’s routine health care because it may detect abnormalities that can lead to cancer.
Most cancers of the cervix can be detected early, especially if women have Pap tests and pelvic examinations regularly. As with many types of cancer, cancer of the cervix is more likely to be successfully treated if it is detected early.
A Pap test is not only useful for detecting and diagnosing cancerous cells but it can also screen for other cervical and vaginal abnormalities including dysplasia (precancerous cells), inflammation and infection. Cervical cancer screening should begin at the age of 21 for all women, including those who are not sexually active.
How is a Pap test done?
A Pap test is an outpatient procedure that only takes a few minutes. You will be asked to undress either completely or from the waist down and have a blanket placed across your lap for your comfort. You will then lie down on the examination table with you knees bent and your feet resting in stirrups, your doctor will then gently insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina.
A speculum spreads the walls of the vagina so that the doctor can easily see your cervix. This may cause a sensation of pressure in your pelvic area. A cotton swab is sometimes used to clear away mucus that might interfere with the sample. Cells are then gently removed from the cervical tissues and from the back of the vagina by using a soft brush or a flat scraping device called a spatula. The doctor will then transfer the removed cell samples collected and put them onto a glass slide. This slide is then sent to a laboratory where they’re closely examined under a microscope for any abnormalities.
Typically the doctor will then perform a full pelvic examination upon completion of the Pap smear. Women may experience some light spotting or mild cramping for a few hours following the Pap test.
When can I expect the results?
The results of the Pap smear are usually available within two to three weeks. At the end of Pap smear testing, each woman should ask how she should expect to be informed about the results of her Pap smear. If you have not been informed of your results after 3 weeks, please call the medical centre.
What are the risks?
There are actually no known medical risks associated with Pap smears. There are more medical risks involved from not having a Pap smear. However there are certain factors or conditions that may interfere with a Pap test. Sometimes, the results can show abnormal cells when they are normal, this is called a false-positive result. The test may also not detect abnormal cells when they are actually present, this is called a false-negative. Some of the factors that can cause these incorrect results: the sample may contain too few cells or there may have not been enough abnormal cells to study,
An infection or blood may hide abnormal cells and douching or vaginal jellies, creams or medications may wash away or dilute the cells. To help prevent this, you should avoid:
Vaginal medications & hygiene products for 2-3 days before your test.
You and your doctor can decide when it’s time for you to begin pap smear testing and how often you should have it done based on your individual risk factors.