It is used to test for the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix; the opening of the uterus. It has been named after the doctor who determined that this was a useful way to detect signs of cervical cancer. It is a simple test, done in the outpatient clinic and during which, some cells from the cervix are gently scraped away it is a pain-free procedure) and then examined for abnormal cell growth.
A rule of thumb, regular preventive care is one of the most important ways to maintain health over time; if a woman waits to see her Gynecologist only when she notices a problem, it may be too late. Cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) in the vast majority of cases, and most women who develop cervical cancer have not had regular Pap tests . It is essential to have a test every two years, so that any abnormal cells can be detected early and to prevent development of malignancy. It can be declared, with power of conviction, that regular Pap testing can reduce the women risk of being diagnosed with cervical cancer by > 90%.
According to the guidelines from the American Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), all women should have a Pap test every two years starting at age 21. After 30, the frequency can be reduced to every three years if the woman had three normal Pap test results in row and if her immune system has not been weakened by a virus or recent health ailment.
Are there any special preparations?
Nothing major really, but to ensure that the Pap smear is most effective, the following tips should be followed prior to the test:
The woman should avoid intimate physical contact, douching, or using any vaginal medicines or creams for two days before having a Pap testing, as these may wash away or obscure abnormal cells.
It is advisable not to schedule a Pap smear during the monthly menstrual period. Even though the test can be done, it is best to avoid this time of the cycle, if possible.
After the Pap smear
After the Pap testing, the woman can go about her daily routine without any restrictions.
There are two types of Pap Smear testing, and depending on the type of Pap testing done, the attending gynecologist will transfer the cell sample collected from the cervix into a container holding a special liquid to preserve the sample (liquid-based Pap test) or onto a glass slide (conventional Pap smear). The decision of undergoing which type of Pap smear is based upon the individual health status of each woman and the recommendations of the attending gynecologist.
These samples are sent to the laboratory where it is examined under a microscope to look for characteristics in the cells that point toward cancer or a precancerous state.
What if the Pap smear result is abnormal?
An abnormal Pap smear means abnormal cells have been identified on the woman`s cervix. Depending on the type of cells found, the treating Gynecologist may recommend repeating the test in four – six months or he/she may choose to perform a colposcopy in order to get a better look at the cervix and take tissue samples to biopsy so they can determine what types of cells are present.
Even if a colposcopy procedure is required, it is an outpatient / clinic-based procedure where a thin tube with a very small camera attached to it is gently inserted into the vagina, up to the cervix. During a biopsy, the Gynecologist scrapes away a small piece of tissue from the cervix that will be sent to the laboratory to have it analyzed under the microscope. The result of this tissue testing can determine the nature of the problem and help formulating the appropriate treatment plan.
“Indeed, Pap smears are the woman’s best prospect for early detection of cervical cancer. It can detect early precancerous changes on the cervix. Once discovered, these changes can be definitely and radically treated, resulting in a dramatic reduction in the risk of progression to cervical cancer” explains Prof. Mettler.
A pap smear takes only a few minutes, but can save the lives of women by detecting abnormalities related to cervical cancer early and therefore giving the woman the golden opportunity to prevent or treat any abnormalities before they become life-threatening.
Ladies, if you have any more questions about the need for a regular pap smear, consult Prof. Liselotte Mettler, one of the best Obstetrics and Gynecology Specialists in Germany, who often visits German Medical Center – the best Obstetrics and Gynecology clinic in Dubai. Prof. Mettler is specialized in providing personalized and compassionate treatment for various gynecological conditions and disorders.
Honorary chair of the Kiel School of Gynecological Endoscopy and Reproductive Medicine
General Secretary of the International Academy of Human Reproduction
Board member of the World Endometriosis Society