A Pap smear is a procedure that tests for cervical cancer as well as Human papillomavirus (HPV). In this article, we’ll give you all the information you need to ensure that you understand the importance of having the test done every three to five years.
What is a Pap smear?
A pap smear is a procedure performed to test for cervical cancer. The reason it’s so important to have a pap smear is that if you do have cervical cancer, the earlier it’s detected, the more effective the treatment. It’s generally recommended that women have a pap smear every three to five years beginning from 21 years of age.
In women over 30 years of age, a pap smear test is performed in concurrence with an HPV test. HPV is a common STI that can cause cervical cancer.
Your doctor may recommend more-frequent Pap smears, if you have certain risk factors, regardless of your age. These risk factors include:
- A Pap smear that showed precancerous cells
- HIV infection
- Weakened immune system
- Chemotherapy or chronic corticosteroid use
- A history of smoking
Medical News Today states:
‘There are two parts to the cervix, and two different types of cells occur there:
- Endocervix: This is the innermost part of the cervix. It lines the “tunnel” leading from the uterus into the vagina. It contains tall, column-like cells that are responsible for mucous secretion.
- Ectocervix: This is the outer portion of the cervix, and it protrudes into the vagina. The ectocervix is home to squamous cells, which resemble fish scales under the microscope.
Where these two cell types meet is where most cervical cancers and precancerous cells form.’
How to prepare for the Pap smear test
A Pap smear test will be most effective if you follow these tips before the procedure:
- Two days before having a Pap smear, avoid intercourse, douching using any vaginal medicines creams or jellies because these may obscure abnormal cells.
- Avoid scheduling a Pap smear during your menstrual cycle.
What to expect during the Pap smear procedure?
- A Pap smear only takes a few minutes to perform
- You’ll need to lie down on an examination table with your knees bent, and a medical professional will insert a speculum into your vagina, which holds the walls of your vagina open so that the doctor can see your cervix easily.
- Samples of cervical cells will be taken. The doctor will use a soft brush and a scraping tool called a spatula.
It needs to be noted that a Pap smear is not always correct; it is possible for a false-negative result. Reasons include
- A small number of abnormal cells
- An inadequate collection of cells
- Blood or inflammatory cells blocking the view of abnormal cells
However, a false-negative result doesn’t necessarily mean that a mistake was made during the procedure. Cervical cancer takes some years to develop, and the test may not have detected the cells. That’s why you must have a Pap smear test every three to five years.
How Marie Stopes can help you
All Marie Stopes centres across the country are staffed with medical professionals who will perform a pap smear test for you. It’s also advisable to go for annual women’s wellness check-ups, even if your pap smear result is normal. The procedure can be performed at any Marie Stopes South Africa’s clinics.
Related resources: HIV and STD screening