A Pap smear, or Pap test, might seem like an extremely daunting thing for a woman. It is, however, essential for you as a woman to have this test done regularly by a gynae to ensure your health or detect any problems in time.
Many women are at risk of cervical cancer, and family history does not predict your likelihood of developing the condition. It is also possible not to feel any symptoms even if you are infected with HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), which is the main risk factor for this type of cancer.
In this blog, we give you five reasons why it’s so important that you regularly have a Pap smear.
A Pap smear is a medical procedure that is performed by a gynaecologist with the use of a tool called a speculum. This tool allows the practitioner to open up the vaginal canal, to access the cervix. The doctor then collects a sample of cells from the cervix with a brush or a scraper. Although the process sounds painful, you can rest assured that you should only feel a little discomfort.
The test is named after a Greek doctor called George Nicholas Papanicolaou, who was the first to examine smears (or samples) of cervical tissue to screen for abnormalities.
During the Pap smear, a collection of cells from the cervix is made and sent for analysis. The sample is screened for any unusual results and will identify abnormalities which might indicate the presence of the Human Papilloma Virus. HPV is a major risk factor in the development of cervical cancer.
HPV is common and can be contracted via sexual contact (vaginal, oral, or anal) with someone who is infected with the virus. The virus may be eliminated by your immune system within one to two years of being infected. In some cases though, it can cause further health complications such as genital warts or may lead to cervical cancer.
Women who are sexually active, therefore should have regular screening tests.
Early detection of any changes occurring at a cellular level is vital in finding precancerous lesions, which have a high probability of developing into cancerous tissue. As studies have shown that the rate of death due to cervical cancer amongst women is on the rise, screening for any possible indications of cancer is the key to prevention.
The Pap test can also detect any infections which might be present or developing, therefore stopping problems before they worsen. Often, minor infections or diseases could be present without showing any symptoms until they eventually progress to a much more serious issue.
We recommend that women between the ages of 21 and 30 should have a Pap smear done once every three years, receiving the appropriate treatment from a gynaecologist if any concerns are identified. Women between 30 and 65 should be tested once every five years.
For women over 65 years of age, a Pap smear will usually only be carried out to investigate unusual gynaecological symptoms, and further investigation is required.
Risk factors include pre-cancerous cells in your cervix, a history of cervical cancer, or a weak immune system. Your gynaecologist will advise you with regards to how often you will need to be tested.
As HPV is sexually transmitted, having unprotected sex places you at risk of contracting the virus. If you have used the contraceptive pill for a long time, you may also be at risk. Smoking highly increases a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer.
For the above reasons, it’s vital for your peace of mind and long-term health that you schedule regular Pap smears with your local gynaecologist like Dr. Nitesh and Dr. Augustine, who are trusted gynaecologists and obstetricians in Durban. Book your appointment with us today.