It’s #CervicalCancerAwareness month and we will be considering an important screening test for cervical cancer- Pap Smear.
A Pap Smear (or Pap Test) is a simple test that is carried out on women of reproductive age, to screen them for cervical cancer. In this article, we will be discussing 10 things you need to know about the test.
10 things to know about Pap smears
- Pap smears involve scraping cells from the cervix and examining them under a microscope. The cervix is a part of the female reproductive tract located between the vagina and the uterus (the womb). Cells of the cervix can become abnormal and result in cancer- cervical cancer.
- A Pap smear is a minor procedure that can be performed in a doctor’s office. It will involve undressing your lower body and laying on a couch. A small spatula or brush will then be introduced into your vagina until it reaches the cervix.
- Pap tests are usually not performed during menstruation. But it is normal to experience some vaginal spotting (tiny bits of blood coming from the vagina) after the procedure.
- Pap tests are recommended for women aged 21-65 years. Women aged 21-29 years should have the test once every three years. Those aged 30-65 are advised to have routine co-testing for cervical cancer, involving both HPV test and Pap smear every five years. HPV is Human Papilloma Virus, and certain strains of it are involved in the development of cervical cancer.
- A Pap test result has two outcomes: normal or abnormal. The result describes the state of the cervical cells after they have been examined in the laboratory. Having an abnormal result does not mean cervical cancer is present; it is an indication for further testing.
- A woman does not have to be sexually active to develop cervical cancer, that is why Pap tests are approved for all women of reproductive age, whether sexually active or not.
- Early age at first sexual intercourse; multiple sexual partners; and STIs are some of the risk factors for an abnormal Pap test result. They are risk factors for cervical cancer.
- Women living with HIV or other immune-suppressing conditions; those on long-term steroid use; or women undertaking chemotherapy will require more frequent Pap tests than their counterparts.
- Those who have received HPV vaccine will still require routine Pap tests. Vaccination indeed reduces the risk of HPV infection, but it is important to note that HPV is not the only cause of cervical cancer. Vaccination does not eliminate the need for routine screening.
- A Pap smear is not an STI test. People should not be stigmatized for requesting one. A Pap smear is simply a screening test for cervical cancer, just as mammograms are screening tests for breast cancer.