Pap smear: 6 facts you should know
A Pap smear is a procedure undertaken to test cervical cancer in women. It is also called a Pap test.
The Pap smear looks for precancers, changes in cell on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if not treated early.
You doctor will use a vaginal speculum to hold open your vagina walls so that they can collect cells from your cervix. The cervix is the lower end of your uterus that connects the uterus to the vagina. Then a small spatula or tiny brush is used to gently collect cells from the cervix.
Why is a Pap smear important?
A Pap smear is used to screen for cervical cancer.
It helps in early detection of cervical cancer thus increasing chances of a cure. This test is also important because it can help predict whether cervical cancer may develop in the future. This is important as preventive measures can be put in place to ensure that this form of cancer does not develop in the future.
Who should do a Pap Smear?
In general, doctors recommend going for this test if you have attained the age of 21.
It is, however, important to decide with your doctor when you should begin and how often you should have the test.
Women who have had a total hysterectomy or those older than 65 may need to talk to their doctor about whether it is still necessary to continue having Pap smear. For instance, a woman who had a total hysterectomy, meaning she had her uterus and cervix surgically removed, may not need Pap smear if she didn’t have a cancerous condition. However, your doctor will make recommendations on this.
How often should I do a Pap smear?
Previously, women were advised to have a Pap test annually but because of improved detection technologies, that is no longer necessary. It has been discovered that cervical cancer takes many years to develop.
Between the ages of 21-29, women whose Pap smears are normal only need it repeated every three years.
If you’re age 30 and above, you may need a Pap only every 5 years if you’re tested at the same time for the HPV. In some cases, you may opt for HPV test instead of a Pap smear.
However, if you have certain risk factors such as a previous cervical cancer diagnosis, precancerous cells, a weakened immune system, and a history of smoking, your doctor may recommend more frequent Pap smears regardless of your age. Talk to your doctor about this and it will be decided what’s best for you based on risk factors.
Will it hurt?
A pap smear can be uncomfortable or even slightly painful depending on your pain threshold. The doctor may use lubrication to ensure that the vaginal speculum does not cause pain and/or discomfort.
The best thing you can do is to relax. If your muscles are tense, it can increase the discomfort.
The best thing is that it does not take long and it is totally worth it.
Do I need to have a pap smear if I am a virgin?
If you’re a virgin, meaning you haven’t had sexual vaginal intercourse, you may have a low risk of cervical cancer, but you can still consider testing.
Human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, is the most common cause of cervical cancer. You’re unlikely to have HPV if you’ve never had some form of sexual intercourse.
However, it is important to note that not all cervical cancers are from HPV. Other risk factors for developing cervical cancer, such as family history and smoking, should be discussed with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
How do I prepare for a Pap smear?
- Avoid any activity that may obscure abnormal cells such as douching and using vaginal products such as powders and sprays
- Don’t have sex for at least 24 hours before the Pap test
- Do not schedule a Pap smear during periods.
- Be clean, be sure to shower that day
- Consider wearing a dress or skirt since you will need to remove all clothing from the waist down. This is however a personal preference, do what makes you happy.
Early detection of cervical cancer through a Pap smear gives you a greater chance at a cure.
A Pap smear can also detect changes in your cervical cells that suggest cancer may develop in the future. Call Marie Stopes Kenya for free on 0800720005 or WhatsApp on 0709819001 for more information.