FAQs About Pap Smears
Cervical cancer is one of the most fatal diseases among women. Studies show that there are about 500,000 new cases and 274,000 deaths caused by cervical cancer each year. Fortunately, incidences of cervical cancer have significantly decreased in the past 30+ years, thanks to the increasing use of a test called a pap smear.
This is a procedure where a pap smear doctor collects cells from a patient’s cervix. These cells will be examined for any abnormalities, which can help detect early signs of cervical cancer.
Even though pap smears have been around for decades, there are still women out there who have little to no knowledge about the procedure, much less about its importance. So, here are the answers to some FAQs about pap smears that can help spread awareness and information about the test.
What Is a Pap Smear?
A pap smear is a test that can help doctors detect abnormal and cancerous cells. Screening is important for getting an early diagnosis of cervical cancer. If discovered at an early stage, there is a significantly large chance for cancer to be treated before it fully develops and reaches a fatal stage.
Apart from cervical cancer, pap smears can also identify other problems around the cervical and vaginal areas, such as certain viral infections. Doctors usually recommend patients to take a human papillomavirus (HPV) test together with a pap smear.
Who Developed the Pap Smear?
The test was developed by a Greek medical corps veteran named George Papanicolaou. He attended the University of Athens and eventually traveled to Germany to study at the University of Munich, where he received his Ph.D. He graduated from medical school in 1904 with top honors.
By 1928, Dr. George Papanicolaou was able to identify the differences between normal and malignant cervical cells. But, it wasn’t until 1943 when his book on the procedure was officially published. The test was simple and inexpensive. Soon enough, pap smears became the standard for screening cervical cancer. The procedure went through very little change since its invention. To this day, it remains the most accurate and effective way of detecting cervical cancer.
When and How Often Should One Get a Pap Smear?
Doctors recommend that women should start regular screening once they reach the age of 21. How often a person should take a pap smear depends on their age.
- 21-29 years old – Should be taken every 3 years
- 30-65 years old – Should be taken every 3 years or every 5 years if taken together with an HPV test.
- 65 years and older – No longer required to take a pap smear unless recommended by a doctor.
Apart from age, certain risk factors may require an individual to take more frequent pap tests. These are:
- Diagnosis of cervical cancer
- Having a pap smear result that showed precancerous cells
- Having an HIV infection
- Having a history of smoking
- Exposure to diethylstilbestrol before birth
- Having a weak immune system due to chemotherapy, organ transplant, or corticosteroid use.
How Does the Procedure Go?
A lot of people avoid getting pap smears because they think it’ll be painful. Although it can be a little uncomfortable, a patient shouldn’t feel pain during the procedure. Before booking a smear test, one should make sure that they aren’t on their period on the scheduled day.
During a smear test, the patient will be asked to lie on their back on an examination table, with their feet resting on the stirrups. Then, the doctor will slowly insert a speculum into the vagina to keep the vaginal walls open and provide access to the cervix. After that, the doctor will take a few samples from the cervical wall.
The tools used for taking samples are either a medical spatula, a brush and spatula, or a device called a cytobrush. Some patients feel a slight push and some discomfort during the scraping but rest assured that it’ll be brief.
After the procedure, the patient may feel some discomfort and a bit of cramping. Very light bleeding may also follow immediately after the test. If the discomfort and bleeding persist after the day of testing, the patient should inform the doctor immediately.
Cervical cancer is a major and prevalent health risk that should be taken seriously. So, get in touch with a pap smear doctor now and schedule a regular screening. This simple and effective test can go a long way in detecting and possibly preventing cervical cancer.