According to the WHO summary report on Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cancer statistics in India, one woman dies of cervical cancer every eight minutes in India. Pap smear is one of the commonly used tests to screen for cervical cancer. But does every woman needs to undergo a pap smear test? How often should one do this test? When does a woman need to get the test done? Is it really effective? Here are the answers to some common doubts:
What is a Pap smear test?
It is a test that helps a doctor to check the cervix for early signs of cancer. The cervix is a part of the reproductive system in women, where the uterus meets the vagina. Pap smear is also recommended to diagnose HPV infection.
How is it done?
To do a Pap test, your doctor or technician will push the walls of the vagina using a device known as a speculum. Once the cervix is visible, cells from the cervix will be scrapped. These cells are then observed under a microscope to look for any abnormality.
Does the test hurt?
It might be a little uncomfortable as the doctor scrapes cells from the cervix. However, the test usually doesn’t hurt.
How does Pap smear help in the diagnosis of cancer?
A pap smear test can help a doctor to find cancerous cells or precancerous cells (cells that can turn into cancer). If the diagnosis is confirmed, it can help in the early treatment of cancer.
When should a woman undergo a Pap test?
Ideally, it is recommended that every woman should undergo a Pap test once they turn 21. Most women believe that only sexually active women need to undergo the test. However, you do not have to be sexually active to undergo this test.
Do I need to prepare for the test?
No. You do not have to do anything special to prepare for the test. Just follow your doctor’s instructions and get it done.
However, if you have your periods or are bleeding heavily, it is advised to reschedule the test or consult your doctor about the same.
How often should a woman do the test?
It depends on the age and the results of the Pap smear. Ideally, women aged 20-65 years should get tested every 3 years.
Who should not do a Pap smear test?
Women who are 65 and older are advised to not do a Pap smear if they have:
– Never smoked.
– Been in a monogamous sexual relationship since the last Pap test.
– Done Pap test regularly till now.
– 3 normal Pap tests in a row.
– No abnormal Pap test in the past 10 years.
Do I need to undergo Pap test, if I have had a hysterectomy?
Ask your doctor about the same because in most cases, women who had a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) and with no history of cervical cancer are not recommended to undergo a Pap test.
Do I need to do a Pap smear if I have had an HPV vaccine?
HPV vaccine lowers your risk of getting HPV infection and HPV-related cervical cancer. However, it doesn’t completely protect you against cancer. Hence, you need to do a Pap smear even if you had an HPV vaccination.
Does an abnormal Pap test indicate cancer?
No. It is quite common to get abnormal Pap tests and it does not always indicate cancer. If the test indicates abnormal cells, then your doctor might recommend repeating the test to diagnose it better.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)
Cervical Cancer: Detection and Prevention
Important tests one should undergo in their 30’s
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2. Schlichte MJ, Guidry J. Current Cervical Carcinoma Screening Guidelines. J Clin Med. 2015 May 7;4(5):918-32.