Pap smear test – Does the very mention send shivers down your spine?
Or are you clueless about what it is?
Are you planning to get a pap smear test done?
Pap smear – A lot of you read this word with the soundtrack of some horror movie playing in your head. Am I right?
A test which has saved countless women is often looked upon as something scary and to be avoided completely!
Ever wondered why? It is because, a lot of women, do not know about this test. That is why today’s post is about Pap smear test.
Today I will tell you all you need to know about this test. Not just that, I will also tell you how you can make your pap smear test an absolute breeze.
So let us get started.
What is Pap smear and how does it help you?
A Pap smear or Papanicolaou test, is a screening test for cervical cancer. It is named after Dr Georgios Papanicolaou or Georgios Nikolaou Papanikolaou.
He was a Greek pathologist, who is known for his ground-breaking discovery in the field of cytopathology and for the invention of the pap smear test.
Cervical cancer is one of the 5 leading causes of mortality in women. But it can be cured completely if you are able to detect it in its early stages. The pap smear test helps to detect any abnormal tumours or growths.
Not just that, it also helps in predicting if a person is susceptible to cervical cancer by tracking any changes in the cells.
Who and how often should this pap smear test be done?
All women can start taking this test at 21, and should get it done every 3 years till the age of 65.
Once you turn 30 years old, it is advisable to get an HPV test too. HPV or Human Papillomavirus is a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer. If done along with HPV test then you can need to do a Pap smear only every 5 years. After 65, you can ask your doctor to see if you need to continue getting the test done.
If you are in the age range of 65-70 and have had normal results consecutively in the previous tests (undergone at prescribed intervals) then mostly your doctor will let you stop taking the screening test for cervical cancer.
If you have had your uterus and cervix removed (total hysterectomy), then also you do not have to do this test. But make sure your doctor clears this.
In some cases women are asked to undergo frequent tests.
#1. They have had abnormal pap smear test results
If you have undergone pap smear tests earlier and the results showed anomalies, then your doctor may ask you do frequent tests to rule out any potential problems.
#2. Weakened immune system
Your immune system can become weak because of various reasons. It could be due to some illness or because of the following reasons.
- Have undergone an organ transplant – If you have undergone an organ transplant, you are given certain medication so that the body doesn’t reject the new organ.
- Have undergone chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is yet another reason why the doctors may ask you to do your cervical cancer screening tests at much more frequent intervals than normal.
- Usage of excessive steroids- This can also factor in making your immune system weak.
- HIV positive – If you are HIV positive, then also you have to undergo frequent screenings.
What makes the pap smear test scary for many?
The pap smear is done by scraping cells of the cervix (the lower part of the uterus) and then examining it for abnormalities.
Scared you, didn’t I? Well that’s what happened to me too.
I was advised by my gynaecologist to get this test for some time. Usually I listen to her, but this time, I made the “mistake” of asking her how the test is done. She explained the whole process to me like any well-meaning doctor would do. Her explanation freaked me out!
I mean common on, scraping cells?
That sounded like an extremely painful thing to endure. The doctor kept reassuring me, but I was convinced that this would somehow kill me.
I was so mortified that I kept postponing my trip, finally last women’s day, I decided to man up (or is woman up ok in this context?) and schedule an appointment. I almost cancelled it, but after a pep talk from my mom in law I went ahead.
For many of us, a trip to the gynecologist is like the walk to the gallows for a prisoner. This is because of various reasons.
- Your first trip would have been bad.
- Your friend’s/ cousin’s account of some test would have left you all shaken up.
- You read something online which scared/scarred you.
I don’t blame you!
Now let us take a look at the procedure. The idea is not to scare you, but to answer questions that may arise while reading this.
Just like most gynaecologist exams, you will be made to lie on the examination table. No biggie there. Next your leg will be placed in stirrups, so that the positioning of your body is right. (Although I secretly suspect, it is to avoid anyone kicking the doctor mid exam.)
The next step is for the doctor to use the speculum. If you didn’t know, speculum is the instrument used by doctors so that they can check the vagina and cervix. If you find this uncomfortable, let the doctor know, so that he/she can take remedial action and make the procedure comfortable for you.
The next step is the major aspect of this test. The doctor slowly scrapes off some cells from the cervix. This is then sent to be examined.
And that is it!
You may feel some discomfort/ cramps akin to those of periods. But nothing too bad!
Some women also have experienced slight bleeding, but it is not something to loose your sleep over.
4 steps that will make it your ap smear test a breeze:
#1. Find a gynaecologist with whom you share a good raport
This test shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, if you calm down and let the doctor do her job.
I was fortunate enough to have a gynaecologist who assured me that it was absolutely normal to be scared. So it is important that you find a doctor with whom you are absolutely comfortable.
#2. Ask questions (there are no silly questions)
Ask your doctor to talk you through the procedure so that you know what to expect and to address all your concerns and queries.
One thing to keep in mind is that, while it is ok to ask questions, you do not have to act like you are the ‘real’ OB-GYN in the room.
#3. Be calm throughout the procedure
Breathe and go to your happy place. If you are worked up, you will end up clenching and tightening your pelvic muscles.
As you know, the doctor will use a speculum to get a clear view of the cervix and also to insert the spatula for collection of the cell sample. It is very important for you to relax so that the procedure doesn’t end up being harder than it should be.
Taking deep breaths will help you sail through this test.
I was a bundle of nerves and kept tensing all the muscles. I kept missing the ride to my happy place so my doctor told me to plug in my headphones and listen to my favorite songs!
#4. In case of any pain, let your doctor know.
During a pap smear, you will experience some discomfort, but if you are in pain, let your doctor know. As I mentioned earlier, there might be some spotting in some cases, but that is normal.
Now it doesn’t seem so tough, does it?
Results of the Pap smear test:
While we all want normal results, at times your results may not be positive.
So do an abnormal pap smear test mean that you have cervical cancer? Not necessarily!
If your report shows abnormal results, do not panic! Instead, ask your doctor about the next course of action. Usually abnormal cell results warrant follow up tests to determine the cause of the anomaly and to confirms or negate the presence of cancerous cells.
If the cells show only minor changes, then your gynaecologist might ask you to come again in 6 months or so. At times, the follow up test is done after a year. This depends on the results of the tests, the rate of risk etc. Based on these factors, your doctor may decide to schedule the tests earlier or later.
Note: A normal result may not necessarily mean no cancer, as this test is not a 100% accurate.
Tell your doctor about all the medications, especially if you are on birth control. This is so that the doctor can read your results accurately. The hormones in birth control pills can affect test results.
You may think that if you are expecting then you should not probably undergo the pap smear test. But on the contrary, this is part of the routine check-ups.
Apart from checking the cervical cells, the doctor may also check the vaginal secretions to see if all is well. During pregnancy some women may end up getting an infection, so this is one way to catch and weed it out before it becomes serious.
It is advisable to not take this test while you are having your periods. The blood might alter the results. Plus, you may be a bit uncomfortable already, so why complicate matters by adding a Pap smear to the mix?
Having said that, any spotting (if you aren’t having your periods) shouldn’t deter you from taking the test. But just to be clear, just let your gynecologist know.
- Other things to remember
Avoid using any vaginal medicines, tampons, creams or gels; douche or have intercourse for two days before having a Pap smear, because they can lead to incorrect results.
- Do not forget to empty your bladder
I saved the best for the last.
The tension (if it is your first cervical cancer screening test), the air conditioned environment may make you feel like heading for the loo. So ensure that you are done before you enter the gynecologist’s office.
You do not want to run out mid test right?
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The cervical screening test is something many of us avoid. It is either due to the lack of awareness or because of the lack of accurate information or even a phobia as it concerns an internal exam.
Hence, I hope this post will help you dispel your fears and misunderstandings regarding the cervical cancer screening test/ Pap smear test.
Take it from someone who goes from Jhansi ki rani to Courage the cowardly dog at the mention of a pelvic exam, this is NOT as scary as it sounds!
Sure, it is not a 100% accurate, but do not discount it as a waste of your time. It may not be completely accurate, but the percentage of times inaccurate results were given outweigh the times it was correctly predicted.
As I said, cervical cancer happens to be one of the leading causes of mortality in women! Timely intervention means a world of difference in most cases and this one is no different.
Dear mommas, when was the last time you got a pap smear done?
If you are yet to get one done, then it is time to schedule an appointment with your gynecologist. And those of you who have already done so, pat yourself on your back.
You are doing your body a great favour! You are also setting a good example to your daughter to take care of herself better!