We’ve all heard about pap smears but only a few even know why the test is important for a woman to maintain her physical health. Here is everything you need to know about pap smear tests and their importance for your wellbeing.
What is a Pap smear test?
A pap smear is a test conducted by gynaecologists to screen for cervical cancer. It is carried out during a routine gynecological examination.
Why does one need to do a Pap smear test?
A Pap test is one of the preventive tests to pick up the pre-cancerous or early cancerous changes in the cervix in healthy women with no symptoms of cervical cancer.
It can be done at any time if the woman is experiencing excessive vaginal discharge, bleeding after sex, or bleeding between two periods.
Cervical cancer develops over 8-9 years mainly due to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection leading to pre-cancerous changes in the cervix. It is one of the leading cancers found in a woman. If tests detect these changes before cancer sets in, then we can treat cancer completely. Hence one needs to do a Pap smear test at regular intervals.
What kind of test is it?
It is not a blood test. A Pap smear involves picking up cells from the cervix with the help of a wooden spatula stick and a brush under vision.
What does the test involve?
The cells from the cervix are transferred on a glass slide and transported in a special chamber box to the cytology laboratory. The slides are fixed with special stains and the cells are examined under the microscope.
What time during a period cycle should you do a Pap smear test?
Pap smears cannot be done during periods. It’s essential to schedule the visit after the completion of periods. Ideally, a Pap smear should be done in the first 7-10 days after periods but can be done between periods.
What one needs to do to prepare for the visit?
What are post-test precautions?
Occasionally one may experience spotting after the test. It may be a good idea to carry a panty-liner to avoid staining.
At what age should one start doing routine Pap tests?
A Pap test is not needed for women who are sexually inactive. One can also avoid it for women above the age of 65 if they had all their previous Pap smears reported negative for cancer. The test is needed for all sexually active women above the age of 25.
How frequently it needs to be done?
It needs to be done at an interval of 3 years till the age of 65.
Does one need to do it despite being vaccinated with the HPV vaccine?
Yes, a regular pap smear test is essential as the HPV vaccine gives partial protection and not complete protection against infinite HPV viruses.
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Read other articles by Dr. Vaishali Joshi here.