Dear friends & Readers as a Gynecologist we come across so many different questions and anxious doubts on an array of tests, diseases and medicine intakes. One Such question happens to be about Pap Smear and its importance in able to lead a healthy life. The following is a quick gist on Pap smear and questions related to it. Consult Now!
What is Pap smear all about?
Pap smear is a test used to detect abnormal or potentially abnormal cells from the uterine cervix.
Pap smears, when performed routinely, have been a great help in the detection and treatment of areas of pre-cancerous cells, which help to prevent cervical cancer from developing. In addition, the test can help detect cervical cancer in the early stages, when it is most treatable. The Pap smear is also used to monitor any abnormalities or unusual findings. In many cases, these findings are part of the body’s repair process and often resolve themselves without any further treatment.
- Women between the ages of 21 and 30 should have a Pap smear every 3 years.
- Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have both a Pap smear and an HPV test every 5 years (preferable); a Pap test alone every 3 years is also acceptable.
- After age 65, no screening is necessary if women have had adequate prior screening and no history of cervical cancer.
- Note – Adequate prior screening has been defined as 3 consecutive negative Pap smears or 2 consecutive negative HPV DNA tests within the last 10 years, with the most recent within the last 5 years.
The conventional method consists of sampling cells from the cervical area. The sample is obtained using a type of wooden “spatula,” cotton swab, or brush. Relatively new liquid-based methods are available that are modifications of the conventional Pap smear. The specimen is collected as noted above but is not placed directly onto a glass slide. Rather, it is put into a special liquid preservative. This cell suspension is processed onto a glass slide, stained, and examined.
You may be instructed not to douche or tub bathes for 24 hours before the Pap smear is to be performed. You may also be asked to refrain from sexual intercourse for 24 to 48 hours before the test. Do not use any vaginal creams or foams for 48 hours prior to the exam and do not schedule the test during your menstrual period.
What does the test result mean?
A “negative” Pap smear means the cells obtained appear normal or there is no identifiable infection. In some instances, the conventional Pap smear may be reported as “unsatisfactory” for evaluation. This may mean that cell collection was inadequate or that cells could not be clearly identified. A summary of other reported results follows.
- Unsatisfactory: inadequate sampling or other interfering substance
- Benign: non-cancerous cells, but smear shows infection, irritation, or normal cell repair
- Atypical cells of uncertain significance: abnormal changes in the cells that cover most of the external part of the cervix (squamous cells-ASCUS) or in the cells that cover the lining of the uterus opening and canal (glandular cells—AGCUS) for which the cause is undetermined; an ASCUS test result is frequently followed up with DNA testing to identify the presence of a high-risk infection with HPV.
- Low-Grade changes: frequently due to infection with HPV, which in some instances can be a risk for cervical cancer; this test result may be followed up with DNA testing to identify the presence of a high-risk HPV infection.
- High-Grade changes: very atypical cells that may result in cancer
- Squamous cell carcinoma or adenocarcinoma: terms used to identify certain types of cancer; in these cases, cancer is evident and requires immediate attention.
What are the risk factors?
Increased risk is also associated with beginning sexual intercourse at an early age, having multiple sexual partners, infrequent Pap smears, cigarette smoking, a history of DES exposure, previous diagnosis of cervical cancer, compromised immune system from organ transplant or HIV, and the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes.
Cervical cancer is a slow, progressive disease and may take years to advance beyond the cervix. Because of this fact, regular gynecological examinations are necessary to spot precancerous cells and allow removal of affected tissue. Regular exams can also detect cervical cancer early if it does develop. With early detection, cervical cancer is easier to treat. Left unchecked, however, it is almost always fatal.
Do the right thing. Ask questions, to be 100% sure that these tests can only help you survive a healthy life!
Be Healthy! Stay Fit!