A pap smear procedure is extremely essential for all women. Getting one done can help prevent cervical cancer and other high risk diseases by detecting them early on. Read on to know more.
A pap smear procedure is a medical test that is conducted on women to help detect early signs of cervical cancer, HPV (human papillomavirus), or other such high risk diseases in them. The pap smear technique involves taking a small sample of the cells from the cervix (end of the uterus) to be tested. These cells are then spread onto a slide (microscope) and studied. The cells are studied in order to detect any malignant (which causes cancer) or pre-malignant (before cancer) changes in the body.
The pap smear method is also known as the pap test and should be conducted annually for women in their 20s and every 2-3 years for when they are in their 30s. The pap smear should be conducted till a woman reaches her 70s and even then, it is recommended to be stopped only if all the previous tests have been normal. This test has become very essential for the good of all women’s health.
One should start testing oneself 3 years after the first act of sexual intercourse or at the age of 21, whichever comes first. The pap smear procedure can be conducted when a woman is not menstruating because it helps in accurate reading. So also, it should not be carried out if sexual intercourse without a condom has been had. The semen (if it remains on the walls of the cervix) can affect the readings. Do not use tampons and stop the intake of any medication 2 days before the test. The best time to conduct the test is when you are mid-cycle.
Pap Smear Process
The pap smear process is very simple, quick, and not painful. Here’s how it goes.
1. A doctor or nurse will make you lie down on your back and place your feet in stirrups (a round device to hold your feet in) that are at the end of the examination table.
2. Your thighs and lower abdomen will be covered by a sheet to allow privacy.
3. A doctor will usually examine the vagina and the parts surrounding it to check for any abnormalities.
4. A speculum (an instrument which allows for the examination of the vagina and cervix) is inserted into the vagina.
5. After clearing any mucus that might have formed with the help of a cotton swab, the doctor will use a small brush to proceed with the procedure.
6. The brush called the cervical brush is then placed into the areas surrounding the cervix and turned around in order to collect a cell sample.
7. This sample is called the endocervical sample.
8. The brush is not inserted into the cervix, only the walls surrounding the cervix are scraped.
9. This sample is then transferred onto a slide and fixed with a preservative. It is then sent to the laboratory for evaluation.
10. The entire process takes less than a minute. And though it can be slightly embarrassing and uncomfortable, it is definitely not painful.
An abnormal pap smear comes about when they reflect abnormal readings. Which means that there have been some untoward changes that have been found in the cervix cells―these could be indicative of cancer―but not always. Abnormal results can also be caused due to smoking, a weakened immune system, taking the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy or as a secondary reaction (if your mother took it), having multiple sexual partners, and having sex at a young age.
The test is divided into classes. Class 1 refers to a normal test and no treatment is needed for this. Class 2 relates to it being atypical and could be caused by infection or inflammation for which a colposcopy might be required. Class 3 is indicative of a low-grade or pre-cancerous stage or dysplasia. Class 4 indicates a high class dysplasia for which a cone biopsy or colposcopy is prescribed. And Class 5 means that one has cancer and a colposcopy will have to be done in order to determine further treatments.
The treatments available for abnormal results are as follows
- Laser Therapy
- Large loop Excision (LEEP) of the transformation zone.
Pap Smear Protocol
A pap smear protocol is meant to be used as guidelines for the medical fraternity, so that they can carry out these tests in the most efficient and effective manner. The protocol lists and specifies all the procedures that have been explained above. It talks about when, how, and why a pap smear is conducted. It also specifies the required age to start these tests and the exact method of carrying out the test. And finally, it also gives, in detail, the procedures to be followed and treatment administered in case of an abnormal pap smear.
The pap smear procedure could well save your life. So disregard the shame and humiliation, and if you cannot get around it, opt for a lady gynecologist, and go do a pap test today. In some cases, clichés really do work―it is better to be safe than sorry.
Disclaimer – This HerHaleness article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.