Pap Smear Test: Why It’s Important and How it Works
The American Cancer Society estimates that 13,170 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 2019. Even worse, approximately 4,250 women will die from the condition in the same year.
The truth is that the condition is caused by a myriad of complex reasons, some of which are beyond our control. However, one shouldn’t despair since the risk of cervical cancer can be significantly reduced by eating unprocessed foods, exercising regularly and having regular medical checkups.
During the medical checkup, the doctor will perform a Pap Smear Test to evaluate the health status of the cervix.
What’s a Pap test?
Pap Smear Test is conducted to evaluate the health condition of the cells of the cervix (the space between the vagina and the uterus). If the Pap smear test results show any abnormality around this region, the doctor will order more tests to rule out cervical cancer. In some cases, it’s used to test for HPV and Herpes, but it cannot detect HIV.
How is the Pap Smear Test Conducted?
Pap smear is a simple process that takes just a few minutes. The doctor will collect a sample of the cervical cells using speculum with soft brushes and a spatula. Some facilities will use the more advanced thinprep Pap smear technique. While this process is associated with slight discomfort, it’s mostly painless.
After the Pap smear procedure, the doctor will preserve the specimen and take it to the laboratory for microscopy. Although most health facilities will alert you, it’s always prudent to ask when to collect the Pap test report.
What’s the Ideal Age for Pap test?
It’s crucial to note that the Pap test for females is necessary regardless of their age. It’s better to take precautionary measures than live with regrets. However, cervical cancer is extremely rare among young girls.
Women between 21 and 69 years require regular Pap test for cervical cancer. These women are at a heightened risk to develop cancer. To avert late diagnosis, all the individuals that fall under this age group should never shy away from the test.
When women get past 69, the chances of developing cancer reduces significantly, and need to get frequent of pap smears diminishes.
What is the Recommended Frequency for a Pap Smear Test?
The frequency of Pap smear tests will depend on several factors including your risks, age and medical history. The Pap test guidelines are as follows:
21 to 20 years – If you’re in this bracket and you’re sexually active, it’s recommended that you perform a Pap smear test at least once every three years.
31-69 years – This group is highly vulnerable. The general recommendations are that you should carry out a Pap smear once every couple of years. However, if you notice anything wrong around the cervix, you shouldn’t hesitate to consult your doctor.
70 years and above – The doctors will make recommendations based on previous history. If you’ve had three consecutive normal Pap test results, then there is generally no need to conduct more tests, but that could differ based on a number of factors. Always consult your doctor for the final word.
Be on the Lookout for These Risk Factors – A compromised immune system, a history of cervical cancer, exposure to diethylstilbestrol before birth, organ transplant and chronic use of corticosteroids.
What to do before the Pap smear Test
You’re expected to stay natural a few days before the test is conducted. Introduction of anything foreign through the vagina can interfere with the integrity of the results. Here are some of the things you should avoid completely:
Sex Before Pap Test – The presence of sperms or spermicides in the vagina can interfere with the results of the Pap smear.
Birth Control Products – It’s recommended that you keep off any birth control pills.
Lubricants – Avoid using vaginal lubricants 48 hours before the test
Tampons – Do not insert them into the vagina since it’ll compromise the integrity of the results.
If you’re experiencing your period, you should try to reschedule your appointment. The menstrual blood will undoubtedly interfere with the Pap smear test results.
How Pap Smear Results Are Explained and Analyzed
The doctor is likely to call you for the results within 72 hours. Ideally, they need to explain the results in detail to you. If the results are normal, then it means that the laboratory professionals did not find any abnormal cells on your cervical cells sample.
Abnormal Pap smear results are characterized by the presence of abnormal cells in your cervix which could be indicative of cervical cancer. However, the doctors may require more tests to make a conclusive decision on your health status. As such, you should never panic since cervical cancer, when detected in its early stages, can be eradicated completely.
Pap test Cost
If you have an insurance policy, it’s highly likely that it’ll clear the Pap smear cost. Otherwise, the Local Health Department could offer subsidized Pap smear tests.
Who Else Should Get a Pap Smear Test?
While Pap smear is largely used to diagnose cervical cancer in females, laboratory technicians can apply it to diagnose Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) among men. However, Pap tests are also used to screen for STD in homosexual men.
Also, women whose cervix has been removed during hysterectomy do not need the Pap smear test. However, the test may be necessary if the hysterectomy procedure was necessitated by the presence of pre-cancer cells around the cervix.