Pap smear is named after its developer George Papanicolaou. Pap smear, also known as the Pap test, is a basic screening test which helps in the detection of cervical cancer, at an early stage. For this very reason, this test needs to be a part of every woman's routine medical checkup, and it shouldn't be avoided under any circumstances.
Out here, cells from the cervix, the narrow opening at the base of the uterus, are collected and examined under a microscope to look for pre-malignant or malignant changes. Any changes in the cells leading to cervical cancer can be detected during this examination.
- Pap smear has gained popularity in the last 50 years, and this popularity has resulted in a noteworthy drop of fatalities, arising out of cervical cancer.
- According to the available statistics, about 55 million Pap tests are performed each year in the United States, of which approximately 3.5 million (6%) are abnormal that require medical follow-up.
- In the U.S., about 4,000 women die each year because of cervical cancer, but this figure would still drop if more women realize the importance of pap smears.
- This test is recommended for all women starting from the age of 21 or within 3 years of becoming sexually active.
- This test is analyzed according to a uniform standardized system which is known as the Bethesda System.
- Around 80% of women diagnosed with invasive cervix cancer have not had a Pap smear in the past 5 years.
- This test is not suggested for women who have had a hysterectomy (with removal of the cervix) for benign conditions.
- This medical procedure actually plays the role of a lifesaver, as 90 percent patients diagnosed with cervical cancer, in its early stages, can be cured.
Who Should Do This Test
- Women who are at a high risk of cervical cancer need to get a Pap smear done on a regular basis.
- Those who have had multiple sex partners.
- Women whose partner has had multiple sex partners.
- Those who became sexually active at a very early age.
- A woman who has a family history of cervical cancer.
- Women who have been infected with human papillomavirus.
- Women who smoke or use tobacco regularly.
- Women who have HIV.
- Those who have been exposed to diethylstilbestrol as a baby.
- A woman who has a history of or is prone to sexually transmitted diseases.
- If the previous Pap test has shown precancerous cells.
- Those who have had sex without using any protection.
How to Prepare for a Pap Test
- At least 2 days before the Pap test, avoid intercourse, douching, or using any medication, spermicidal creams, gels, or jellies.
- Do not opt for this test if you are close to your menstrual period.
- The best time for the test is between 10 - 20 days after the first day of the last menstruation cycle.
When and How Often Should the Test be Done
- Women should undergo a Pap test at least once every 2 years from the age of 21 and once every 3 years after they begin to have sexual intercourse. This three years period is recommended to avoid over-treatment for insignificant or temporary abnormal changes. Waiting for three years is considered quite safe as cervical cancer usually develops slowly, and it is rarely noticed in women under the age of 25.
- Women should get their first Pap test done at the age of 21 (unless they have had a previous abnormal Pap smear, which is extremely rare).
- The new Pap smear guidelines suggest that women in their 20s should get this test done every two years (assuming prior Pap tests have been normal)
- Women belonging to the age group of 30 plus, who have had three consecutive normal Pap smears, can have this test done every three years.
- After hysterectomy, women need not undergo a Pap test, unless the surgery was done as a treatment for pre-cancer or cancer.
- For abnormal Pap smear results, the doctor may recommend a repeat test. Sometimes, other tests are also suggested.
- Women belonging to the age group of 65 - 70, who have already had at least three normal Pap tests and no abnormal Pap tests in the last 10 years, may stop taking this test after consulting with their physician.
- The treatment options for abnormal Pap smears are cryotherapy, laser therapy, conization, or loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP).
The above guidelines should be followed by all women, irrespective of whether they have been vaccinated for the HPV (human papillomavirus) or not. All women should regularly undergo a Pap test and pelvic exam, as both are considered as important tests of every woman's health care routine. These help in detecting abnormalities that may lead to invasive cancer of the cervix.
Thanks to the modern-day researchers, these abnormalities can be treated before the development of cancer. Regular Pap tests, performed according to the above guidelines, help in preventing the most invasive cancer of the cervix.
Disclaimer: This HerHaleness article is for informative purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.