Pap smear or Pap test is a screening test for diagnosing cervical cancer in women. A Pap test can even help identify abnormal cells in the cervix to prevent the development of cancer by detecting it at an early stage. This increases the chances of treating the issue. To talk about the same we are joined by Dr Aarthi Bharat, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist, Motherhood Hospital, Banashankari, Bangalore.
What Happens In A Pap Test?
During the test, a speculum will be inserted into your vagina to keep the vaginal walls open. The doctor will scrape a few samples of cells. This will be done using a spatula, brush or cytobrush (both spatula and brush). During scraping, you may feel irritation and a bit uncomfortable.
The cells will be evaluated in a laboratory to check the presence of any abnormal ones. It is normal to feel irritation and cramping after the test, along with vaginal bleeding. However, if the bleeding lasts longer, you should consult your doctor.
Who Should Get A Pap Test?
Women aged between 21-65 years should get a pap test done every 3 years. If you have an HIV infection or a weak immune system after chemotherapy or transplant, you may need frequent tests as you are at an increased risk. If you are over the age of 30 years, you must go for a Pap smear along with a test for Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a cause of cervical cancer, every 5 years. Regular Pap smear is important for women who are sexually active as they are at a higher risk of contracting HPV.
If you are suffering from HPV, you have a higher chance of developing cervical cancer. You can be infected with HPV after having sex with an infected partner. You should get tested for cervical cancer irrespective of age or sexual activity. Women over the age of 65 do not require a pap smear if their previous tests were negative.
What Do The Results Say?
If The Result Is Normal
If the test does not indicate any pre-cancerous or abnormal cells, your test will come out to be negative. This means that you won’t end any treatment until your next test is due in 3 years.
If The Result Is Abnormal
If the result of your pap smear comes out to be positive, it means that abnormal cells have been discovered in the test. However, it does not mean you have cervical cancer, as it depends on the type of cells. Pap smear results can be positive due to the following reasons:
- HPV infection
- Error in lab results
- Pre-cancer or cancer
- Mild inflammation (if you had sex before the test)
- Minor changes in cells (dysplasia)
Your doctor may recommend another pap test to check the results. If the results are positive, you will have to undergo a colposcope to closely examine your cervix and other areas.
Preventing Cervical Cancer
One of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer is to go through regular screening tests. It is better to treat pre-cancers before they turn invasive. Another effective way to prevent cervical cancer and several other types of cancers are to get vaccinated against HPV. HPV vaccines are highly effective if taken before becoming sexually active. You stand at a higher risk of getting infected by HPV if you have multiple sexual partners, as anyone can pass it without even knowing. Therefore, limit your exposure to HPV before it affects your health drastically.