Pap smears test for cervical cancer and pre-cancerous cells that could lead to cervical cancer. Pap Smears are performed by Dr Yanke van der Westhuizen.
ABOUT A PAP SMEAR
Cancer of the cervix (cervical cancer) is the fourth most common cause of cancer-related death among women worldwide. The best way to detect cervical cancer is by having regular Papanicolaou tests, or Pap smears. (Pap is a shortened version of the name of the doctor who developed the screening test). A Pap smear is a microscopic examination of cells taken from the uterine cervix.
A Pap smear can detect certain viral infections such as human papillomavirus (HPV), which is known to cause cervical cancer. Early treatment of precancerous changes detected on the Pap smear can stop cervical cancer before it fully develops. A woman may have cervical cancer and not know it because she may not have any symptoms.
The incidence of cancer and deaths from cervical cancer has significantly declined over the years because of prevention, screening, and early detection by the Pap smear. Most abnormal Pap smear results indicate the early stages of disease and need reasonable observation by a doctor.
Risks factors for cancer of the cervix include conditions that increase the likelihood of being infected with HPV as well as other factors including the following:
- Multiple sexual partners (or sexual partners who have had multiple partners)
- Starting sexual intercourse at an early age
- Weakened immune system
- Previous cancer of the lower genital tract
Cervical cancer screening is now recommended every 3 years starting at age 21. Screening may be carried out every 5 years for women over age 30 if a Pap smear and HPV test are performed.
No upper age limit for screening exists because the incidence of cancer of the cervix increases with age at a time when women may be less likely to get a Pap smear. Diagnosis of most of these cancers is in women older than 50 years. Even after menopause, a woman should continue to have regular Pap smears. Women over age 65 who have had three or more normal Pap tests in a row and no abnormal Pap test results in the last 10 years may choose to stop having Pap tests.
If a woman has had her uterus removed, she should still have yearly screening if there is a history of advanced precancerous changes seen on Pap smear or other lower genital tract cancer.
What are the risks of a Pap Smear?
The Pap smear procedure is not complicated or painful. The only risk is not detecting cervical cancer in time to treat and cure it.
How do I prepare for a Pap Smear?
The best time to have a Pap smear is when the woman is not menstruating.
For two days before the test, avoid the following because these might interpretation of the test more difficult:
- Vaginal medications (except as directed by your doctor)
- Vaginal contraceptives such as birth control foams, creams, or jellies
What happens during the Pap Smear procedure?
A Pap smear is usually part of a pelvic exam and accompanied by a breast exam performed by the health care professional. It should only take about one minute to perform a Pap smear during this overall exam.
- The woman will lie on the examination table on her back with her knees up and bent and her feet in stirrups (rests). While she is lying on an examination table, her health care professional will use a small metal or plastic instrument called a speculum to open the vagina so that the walls of the vagina and cervix can be seen clearly.
- A sample of mucus and cells will be obtained from the cervix (see Multimedia File 2) (the part of the uterus that extends into the vagina) and endocervix (the opening of the cervix) using a wooden scraper or a small cervical brush or broom.
- Formerly, a sample of cells was evenly applied to a glass slide and sprayed with a fixative. This sample was sent to the lab for close and careful examination under a microscope. Currently almost all providers are using a new kind of Pap smear called a ThinPrep test, the sample is rinsed into a vial and sent to a lab for slide preparation and examination.
- A cytologist (a specialist trained to look at the cells and interpret a Pap smear) reviews both types of tests.
- Some discomfort during the test may occur. Most women feel nothing at all or feel pressure. Staying relaxed will help stop any discomfort. The woman should breathe slowly and concentrate on relaxing her stomach and legs.
- A Pap smear should not be painful. If a woman has pain during the test, she should tell her doctor.
What Happens After the Pap Smear Procedure?
The health care professional will consult with test results.
A negative or normal test finding means that the cervix looks healthy. All the cells are of a healthy size and shape.
A positive or abnormal test finding means that something unusual is in the sample. The test found cells of a different size and shape.
An abnormal Pap smear result does not always indicate cancer. Cells sometimes appear abnormal but are not cancerous. The woman will have to return to the doctor for follow-up care.
- An infection of the cervix may cause an abnormal test result. Yeast, trichomonas, chlamydia, or gonorrhea infection can cause the cervical cells to appear inflamed. After the infection is treated, the Pap smear result usually returns to normal.
- If the Pap smear result is positive because of an infection, the underlying cause should be treated. The test should then be repeated in 2-3 months, because cancer of the cervix can be hidden by an infection. A check-up with a doctor is necessary.
Cape Connection, 59 Garstfontein Road, Waterkloof,
Closed on Mondays | Tuesday-Friday: 9:00 – 18:00 | Saturday: 08:30 – 13:00
BY APPOINTMENT ONLY