There is no denying it, a Pap smear test is not something you can ever look forward to. Yet, it is over very quickly and could save your life.
Cervical cancer is a preventable disease but despite this, it still kills around 4,000 women every year in the United States. The aim of your Pap smear is to screen your cervix for any changes to the cells, a condition called cervical dysplasia.
If any abnormalities are found, your gynecologist might choose to recall you for another test in a few months’ time. However, they may opt to treat more advanced signs of dysplasia before the cells can develop into invasive cervical cancer.
What Is a Pap Smear?
A Pap smear is a simple test where a small sample of cells will be gently collected from your cervix. The cells are examined under a microscope for any changes to the cells or for any conditions that may potentially develop into cancer.
It is the best and easiest way to protect yourself against cervical cancer. Women should have their first Pap test at age 21. After this, it’s wise to get a test every three years until you are 65 years old. Women who are aged between 30 and 65 who test negative for the human papillomavirus may only need to be tested every five years.
What Difference Does It Make If You Test Positive for the HPV Virus?
In most cases of cervical cancer, it is caused by the human papillomavirus which is a sexually transmitted disease. In the early part of this century, HPV testing was included as part of the routine screening during a Pap smear. IF you test positive for HPV then your risk of developing cervical cancer is higher. If you test negative for HPV then your risk of developing cervical cancer is far lower.
Why Only Get a Pap Smear Every Three Years?
Up until recently, a Pap smear was recommended every year, just to be safe. Some doctors even recommended that women had a Pap smear twice a year. The problem with this approach is that many women will have a false negative result. This means there are abnormal changes in the cervix that were not detected. At the same time, this test also has a quite high rate of false positives, where the cervix is normal but the results of the Pap smear come back as abnormal.
Cervical cancer is a slow-growing disease and the cancer cells take a long time to develop once they begin changing. Even if you only have a Pap smear every three years, there’s still plenty of time to pick up any changes to the cervix. Thus, there is more than enough time to prevent cancer from developing.
By taking this approach, fewer women will have the worry about the expense and discomfort associated with having a false result. Additionally, it’s important to remember that most cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in women who have never had a Pap smear. The rest tend to be found in women who haven’t had a Pap smear in the previous five years.
Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule as some women may have had infections that suppress their immune system, making them more susceptible towards developing diseases. If your gynecologist feels this is the case, they may recommend more frequent Pap tests based on your medical history.
What Happens If the Results of Your Pap Test Are Abnormal?
Once your Pap test has been carried out, it generally takes a few weeks to get the results from the laboratory. If you receive an abnormal result, it simply means the cells don’t look quite right.
You may need a repeat test or a colposcopy which is an examination of the cervix using a special microscope. Sometimes it may be necessary to repeat the Pap test if too few cells were collected during the first test.
A decrease in the level of estrogen can also influence test results and menopausal women may need to take estrogen before the test is repeated. When this is the case, the first test isn’t viewed as being abnormal, but it will be unsatisfactory enough to mean a re-evaluation is required.
If you are overdue for a Pap smear test, then it’s well worth scheduling that appointment with your gynecologist. It only takes a few minutes to have this test carried out. At least you are only likely to require a Pap test every three years at most. It’s well worth it for that peace of mind you gain when you hopefully receive a negative result.
How to Get Involved
Regular checks can keep you healthy.