Regularly visiting a gynecologist means that you have examinations and treatments for preventive purposes. Many women postpone going to a gynecologist until they have specific problems. But it is a good idea to do all the required exams and tests once a year, including a Pap smear.
If you’re new to this and still haven’t figured out what a Pap smear means, you’ve come to the right place! We’re going to clarify everything you need to know about Pap smears, meaning, and usage. So read on.
What Is A Pap Smear?
Pap is a diagnostic tool that can help doctors identify irregular cells and cancer. It works by extracting cells from the cervix. Cervical cancer screening is important for the early diagnosis of cervical cancer. Usually, effective treatment is possible with early diagnosis.
Doctors Are Recommending Two Tests For This Purpose:
- The Pap smear, which monitors irregular cells
- The human papillomavirus (HPV) test, which measures the presence and form of HPV DNA
This information can help the doctor decide if a person has cervical cancer. Or if a person is at an elevated risk of developing the disease.
These Tests May Detect:
- Precancerous cell changes
- The presence of HPV
- The presence of cancer
If the tests lead to a diagnosis, a person may seek treatment. Routine screening does not always automatically require all tests simultaneously. But a person may apply for an HPV test at the same time as a Pap Smear.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the deaths from cervical cancer decreased significantly with the pap smear introduction.
Reasons For Doing Pap Smear
Pap examination helps to monitor for cervical cancer. The Pap smear is usually performed in conjunction with a pelvic exam. In women older than 30 years of age, doctors can pair the Pap test with human papillomavirus (HPV) test. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that may cause cervical cancer. In certain situations, you can do the HPV test instead of the Pap test.
Who Should Have A Pap Smear?
You and your doctor will decide when it’s time for you to start Pap tests and how often you can get a Pap test. In general, doctors recommend starting Pap smear tests at the age of 21.
How Often Should A Pap Smear Be Repeated?
Doctors usually prescribe repeating Pap tests every three years for women aged 21 and 65 years of age.
Women aged 30 and older may recommend Pap testing every five years. Or they may recommend HPV diagnostic testing instead of Pap testing.
If you have such risk factors, your doctor can prescribe more regular Pap tests, regardless of age. These risk factors may include:
- Diagnosis of cervical cancer or Pap smear for precancerous cells
- Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure before birth
- Infection with HIV
- Weakened immune system due to organ transplantation, chemotherapy, or chronic corticosteroid use
- Smoking record
You and your doctor should examine the benefits and risks of Pap smears. Then your doctor will decide what’s best for you based on risk factors.
Who Can Consider Stopping Pap Smears?
In some cases, a woman and her doctor can decide to stop Pap testing, such as:
- After a full hysterectomy. After surgical removal of the uterus, ask the doctor whether you should continue with Pap smears. If the reason for the hysterectomy is a non-cancer disease, you can discontinue routine Pap smears. But if the hysterectomy was due to a cancerous disorder, the doctor may suggest continuing regular Pap tests.
- Older age. Doctors usually agree that women can consider stopping routine Pap tests at age 65. If their previous cervical cancer screening tests have been negative, there shouldn’t be any complications.
Speak to your doctor about your choices, and together you can determine what’s right for you based on your risk factors. If you are sexually involved with multiple partners, your doctor may prescribe continuing the Pap test.
Is There Any Risk With Pap Smear?
A Pap smear is a secure way to test for cervical cancer. However, the Pap smear is not foolproof. It is possible to have false-negative results. This means that the test does not indicate an abnormality, even though you have irregular cells.
A false-negative result does not mean that there was a mistake. Factors that may cause a false-negative result include:
- Inadequate cervical cells collection
- A limited amount of abnormal cells
- Inflammatory cells or blood which obscure abnormal cells
While abnormal cells will go undetected, time is on your side. The development of cervical cancer takes several years. And if one test fails to find abnormal cancerous cells, the next test will most likely take place.
What Happens During A Pap Smear?
Pap tests can be a little painful, but the test is really quick. You lay on your back on the test table with your legs spread out. And lay your legs on the supports called the stirrups during the procedure. Then your doctor will slowly place a device called a speculum in your vagina. This system holds the vaginal walls open and allows access to the cervix.
Your doctor will scrape a small sample of your cervix cells. There are a few ways that the doctor will take this sample:
- By using a product called a spatula.
- Some use a spatula and a brush.
- Others use a product called a cytobrush, which is a combination of a spatula and a brush.
During the brief scraping, most women experience a slight push and irritation. A sample of cells from the cervix will be stored and sent to a lab to look for abnormal cells.
You may feel slight pain from scraping or a bit of cramping after the exam. You can experience very light vaginal bleeding immediately after the examination. Tell the doctor if the discomfort or bleeding occurs after the day of the exam.
What Do The Results Of A Pap Smear Mean?
There are two possible Pap smear results: normal or abnormal.
- Normal Pap smears
If the results are normal, this means that doctors didn’t find any abnormal cells. Normal results are also often referred to as negative results. If the results are normal, you probably won’t require a Pap smear for another three years.
- Abnormal Pap smear
If the test results are abnormal, this doesn’t mean that you have cancer. It means that there are abnormal cells on your cervix, some of which could be precancerous. There are some abnormal cell levels:
- Severe dysplasia
- Carcinoma in situ
Mild abnormal cells are more common than serious anomalies. Depending on what the results of the test indicate, your doctor might recommend:
- Increase the frequency of the Pap smear
- Take a closer look at the cervical tissue in a procedure called colposcopy
The doctor can use light and magnification to see the cervical tissues during the examination. Doctors can obtain a sample of the cervical tissue in a procedure called a biopsy in certain cases.
How Accurate Are The Results?
The Pap test is very accurate. Regular Pap screening lowers the rate of cervical cancer and mortality by at least 80 percent. It may be painful, but a brief discomfort may help to protect your health.
The Bottom Line
Pap smears aren’t daunting and taboo as they seem. They’re a routine part of your medical treatment regime, just like brushing your teeth or testing your eyes. It would be best if you considered Pap smear on a regular basis.