Every woman 18 years and over – should have annual Pap smear. Should the pap smear be normal for 3 consecutive years, then she can have it at the discretion of her attending doctor-but not mere than 3years apart.
What is this Pap Smear and why is it so important?
The Pap Smear is a test done to detect changes in the mouth of the womb, which may later progress to cancer.
Cancer does not develop suddenly. There is a gradual change from normal, through various levels of abnormality, through precancer to cancer. This whole process may take many years.
The Pap Smear detects these along-the-way changes and indicates how far along that road a woman has traveled.
Treatment can be given at an early stage and so prevent the later development of true cancer.
This smear test detects changes only in the mouth of the womb; it is not (as so many women seem to think) a general test for cancer.
How does the test work?
The basic principle of he test is very simple. All surfaces of the body constantly shed cells. These cells can be examined under the microscope by trained people (technicians and doctors), who can recognise changes that indicate a tendency to abnormality.
To take a Smear the doctor or clinic sister places a speculum into the vagina so that he/she can look in and see the cervix. A scraping is taken from the mouth of the womb with a wooden or plastic spatula or a cotton bud, and the material so obtained is spread onto a glass slide and “fixed” by spraying with either alcohol to prevent the specimen from drying out. The specimen is labelled and sent to the laboratory.
At the laboratory, special stains are applied to colour the specimen. The slides are examined microscopically and a report is sent to the referring doctor or clinic.
Over the years this branch of science (which is called cytopathology) has become incredibly sophisticated. These scientists can determine that precancerous changes are present; they can diagnose established cancer and what type cancer is present. The pre-cancerous stages can be staged into Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasm 1 (CIN 1 CIN 2 or CIN 3).
The smears also show certain infections and parasites and can be used to determine the hormonal status of the patient.
Nevertheless the main purpose is to detect changes that precede cancer.
Abnormal test … what to do now?
After you have had a Pap. Test it is essential that you find out the result.
If the clinic or doctor do not contact you then you should contact them. Do not presume that they will ‘phone you’.
Make sure to get your result personally.
If the test is positive further tests and treatment are needed. Your doctor may suggest Colposcopy.
This is done in the doctor’s surgery and entails examining the cervix through a type of telescope, which magnifies the tissues and enables the doctor to see if there are precancerous changes or even very early cancer.
The doctor can also diagnose infections and other changes in the cervix. If there is an area on the cervix that looks “wrong” he can take a tiny sample of the tissue to send to the laboratory for analysis. This is called a BIOPSY.
Is the test valuable?
The Pap test is very important. If has reduced the incidence of cancer of the cervix and continues to do so. It thus saves many lives each year all over the world.
Having a Pap Smear is not painful at all. It could possibly save you a lot of trouble. Ask your doctor about it or attend a clinic.
If you have not had your smear-book for a pap smear now