The Pap smear also known as a Pap test is a screening procedure to check for the presence of abnormal cells on the lining of the cervix which is the opening of the uterus. During the procedure, a sample of cervical cells are collected, spread onto a microscope slide and sent to a laboratory for evaluation.
PURPOSE OF A PAP SMEAR
The main reason for the Pap smear is cancer prevention. The test will result in either a normal or abnormal reading. Just because a Pap smear may result in an abnormal reading, it doesn’t mean that they patient has cancer. However, additional evaluation may be necessary, including a biopsy, to determine if cancer exists.
With regular Pap smears, abnormal cells can be identified at a precancerous stage when it can be easily treated before cancer develops! With properly scheduled Pap smears, cervical cancer is largely preventable.
WHO NEEDS A PAP TEST
It is recommended that women begin their Pap testing at age 21 and continue every 3 years until age 65. There may be some individual circumstances where the test may be suggested either more or less frequently. Dr. Ward will discuss individual needs during an annual physical examination.
Fortunately the Pap smear procedure is a quick procedure but women typically experience some mild discomfort like a slight pushing sensation when the cells are collected.
During the Pap procedure, the patient will be made as comfortable as possible as she lies on her back on the examination table. The patient’s legs will be spread and feet rested in supports called stirrups. At this point a speculum will be inserted into the vagina to keep the vaginal walls open and provide access to the cervix. At this point, a sample of cells will be collected with the use of a small brush or swab. The speculum is then removed and the procedure is complete. The cells will then be carefully prepared to be sent to a laboratory for testing.
After the test, light spotting, mild discomfort or a bit of cramping may be experienced. This is normal but if these symptoms lasts for more than a day, call Dr. Ward for a follow-up.
A secondary or co-test that may also be conducted along with the Pap smear is an HPV test. Using the same cell sample, the presence of the human papillomavirus virus (HPV) is tested. There are over 100 types of the HPV viruses and 40 are sexually transmitted. Two types of HPV are the primary causes of cervical cancer. Identifying HPV is another method of determining the existence of abnormal cells that may lead to cervical cancer.
PREPARING FOR THE TEST
Proper preparation for the PAP smear is essential. Make sure to schedule the exam and test between menstrual periods. Then within two days, refrain from the following:
- Using a Tampon
- Sexual Activity
- Using Birth Control Foam, Cream, or Jelly
- Using Medicine or Cream in the Vagina
Following these preparations will yield the most accurate Pap smear result.
As part of cervical cancer prevention, Dr. Ward provides Pap smear tests as part of the annual physical examination although there may be other situations that may necessitate a test at different times. Properly scheduled Pap smears are the best way to prevent cervical cancer and establish exceptional health for women.