Cervical Cancer Screening: A Brief Introduction To PAP SMEAR

Doctors are advising young women who are sexually active or have history of cancer in family to get a cervical cancer screening for early detection and prevention.

With the cervical cancer graph taking a rising trend in females around the globe. Doctors are beginning to advise young women who are sexually active or have history of cancer in family to sit for cervical cancer screening for early detection and prevention.

Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cervical cancer. [Read more]

And India, where five percent of the population uses a condom as protection, has become a potent hub for cervical cancer.

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Because of unsafe sexual practices — unawareness and wilful lack of safe sex practices between couples, having unprotected sex with multiple partners among newly sexually active youth, refusal to use condom and other protection to feel more pleasure and more — has lead to rise in sexually transmitted HPV virus!

Here by we discuss PAP SMEAR – the screening tests for cervical cancer and various infections.

What is a PAP Smear Test and what to expect during the test?

It is a simple test which examines your cervical cells and examine if they are abnormal or cancerous. It also detects any infection if present.

The doctor takes a speculum to separate vaginal walls, they insert a swab and collect cells which are then sent to the Pathology department for examination. The procedure takes only a few minutes and is very safe.

Why is cervical cancer screening important?

The cervix is the lowermost part of the uterus that provides connection to the vaginal wall. During penovaginal sex, the sperms generally travel from vaginal wall, up to cervix and uterus where it gets fertilized.

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Hence, cervix becomes a site for infection in case of unprotected intercourse with infected person or having unprotected sex with multiple partners.

What conditions can be diagnosed on PAP Smear Test?

Also, with the rising trend of various cancers in the world, cervical cancer is the most common cancer seen in females. Early detection of both HPV virus infection and cancer can be made by routine screening cervical cancer screening.

What are the causes of cervical cancer?

  • The most common cause is HPV infection, acquired through unsafe sexual practices with an infected person. Other STDs are also noted to play some role.
  • Multiple sexual partners have often led to infection
  • Early commencement of sexual activities.
  • Weak immunity, as in HIV positive patients and others.
  • Genetic causes

Who needs Cervical Cancer Screening?

A female as she turns 21 years can start getting this screening test. Not all cervical cells require sexual intercourse to turn abnormal/malignant.

Hence, not sexually active female should also get screened as she turns 21 years because we have seen that many genetic factors and mutations also contribute in developing the cancer.

How often should a woman get this PAP Smear done?

  • Female younger than 21 years – Are not required
  • Females after the age of 21 years– If after first test everything is normal, she can get herself screened in every three years.
  • Females by the age of 30 years –Are also advised to have an HPV test along with PAP Smear test.

What are prerequisites before taking the test?

  • Schedule test 5 days after your period ends
  • Avoid lubricants, vaginal douches, birth control jellies, foams.
  • Try avoiding sexual intercourse 2 days before taking the test.

Can I take PAP test during my periods?

It is better to avoid doing a test while on periods as it can hinder the process of getting a clear and unbiased results.

Are there any side effects of the Test?

There is no demonstrated side effect of the cervical cancer screening test till now. It is a very safe, reliable and easy test. You might feel little irritation/discomfort down post procedure for minutes, but very rare.

Inform your healthcare if the feeling lasts longer than a few minutes or a day.

How do we interpret the test?

The test results can be either:

  • Negative – which means casual follow up after 3 years
  • Presence of inflammation/infection – which requires medications and follow up with treating consultant
  • Positive for malignancy – which is then confirmed with other gold standard investigations like Colonoscopy, biopsies etc

There is an HPV vaccine, which currently is being administered to two groups of children between the age group of 9 and 12, and teens and young adults between the age group of 13 to 26, to learn more, read here.

Early detection of precancerous or cancerous cells on your cervix can increase your chances of successful treatment. Hence, highlighting this screening test is need of an hour.

Author is a doctor.

Image source: Luri Maksymiv, and Devonytu via Getty Images, free on CanvaPro

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