WHAT IS PAP SMEAR & HOW OFTEN DO I NEED?
A timely Pap Smear Test is the mantra of every gynaecologist but what is it all about? This article will give you quick pointers to prepare for the test.
- What is a Pap smear?
First of all, a Pap smear is not the same as a pelvic exam. A pelvic exam is a check up of your reproductive parts, both internally and externally.
A Pap smear is a screening test for cervical cancer. We collect cells outside the cervix. The cervix is the opening for the uterus and this test checks for the presence of any cancerous or malignant growth in the region. The main purpose of a pap smear test is to identify cellular changes in the cervix due to cancerous growth of HPV. This test is often done as part of a pelvic exam.
Once the cervix is visible, a little brush (which looks like a mascara brush) is used to swab the outside of the cervix and collect cells. This will feel like a little tickle or a gentle scratch. The process takes just a few minutes.
We’ll put the cell sample into a solution and send it off to the lab. Usually we have results from the pathologist back in a few days.
- How often do I need a Pap smear?
The most recent cervical cancer screening guidelines changed the recommendation for when women should get their first Pap smear, and how often they’re needed.
- When should I get my first Pap smear? Age 21
- How often do I need a Pap smear?
- Women between 21 and 29 years old: Every three years after a normal Pap smear.
- Women between 30 and 65 years old: Every five years after a normal Pap smear and a normal HPV.
- Pap smears are no longer required for women who are over age 65 or who have had a hysterectomy for benign reasons.
Science has shown that it takes a long time for cells to go from healthy and normal to really bad, so it’s not necessary to have a Pap smear every year. If your cells are healthy right now, you’re most likely not going to have cervical cancer in three years. But you may have some atypical cells by that time, and that’s why you need to be screened again, just in case.
“We still recommend a pelvic exam every year to look for other problems like ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, or sexually transmitted diseases.”
- Why Should I Take a Pap Smear Test
The test has immense potential in detecting cancerous growth at an early stage before it spreads. The test also helps to identify HPV related infections. These tests are usually very accurate. It is highly recommended to take a test once in three years regardless of sexual activity.
- What to Do Before the Test?
- Inform your doctor about menstruation:
Your periods are not the best time for you to get a Pap smear test done. Not only would it be highly uncomfortable, but the bleeding would interfere with the test. Hence, make an appointment for the test, keeping in mind your menstrual cycle
- Avoid Sexual Intercourse for 24 Hours:
Vaginal sex before the test has the ability to interfere with the results. Refrain from any exertion before the screening.
- Do not indulge in douching before the screening:
Douching is the washing or cleaning the inside of your vagina with water or any other fluids. Though douching seems like an effective way to ‘wash out’ all the germs and sperm post-sex, it strips the vagina off from its necessary fluids. It can also affect the pap smear test due to the same reason.
- Avoid any vaginal products:
Vaginal products like perfumes, creams, washes, and even spermicides have the potential to affect a pap smear test by altering the chemical balance inside your vagina. Make sure that you do not use any product before you visit the doctor.
Information for Pregnant Women:
If you’re pregnant and have to undergo a pap smear test, make sure you do so within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. After that, the test can get quite painful. Similarly, wait until 12 weeks post-childbirth for accurate pap smear test results.
The pap smear test can go a long way in early identification of any possible complication and is very easily accessible. It is quite a simple and quick procedure with multiple benefits. Take a step forward in your health, and make an appointment towards better holistic health.
“A Pap smear can save you from cervical cancer.
A Pap smear doesn’t test for all diseases, but it has been proven effective to lower your risk of developing cervical cancer.”
DR VANDANA BINWAL
SENIOR CONSULTANT, SWASTIK HOSPITAL & RESEARCH CENTRE, JAIPUR.