A pap smear test, also commonly referred to as a pap test, is a procedure doctors will take for women who want to test for cervical cancer. It is the best way to detect the early stages of cervical cancer and is one of the procedures that’s recommended to be done more often than not. This is because it is one of the most common types of cancer in women, yet it is also the most preventable.
Pap smear tests are widely available in the UAE and awareness of cervical cancer and prevention is increasing here in the UAE. In this article, we’ll go through everything you need to know about pap smear tests.
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The procedure involves the collection of cells from your cervix that is located at the narrow end of your uterus and the top of your vagina. Doctors will then test the sample cells to see if cancer is present, and if so, how much it has developed.
Detecting cervical cancer earlier than later through pap smear tests allows doctors to treat the condition sooner, and giving them a higher chance to find a cure and prevent cancer from developing into worse conditions. It is also commonly done along with a pelvic exam.
Who Should Have a Pap Smear?
Most doctors will recommend women to start testing at the age of 21 to 65. It is also recommended to be tested at least every three years or depending on how much your doctor advises based on your health.
Women older than 30 are typically recommended to get pap testing every five years, along with HPV testing. HPV tests look for DNA from HPV in cells from your cervix. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that most likely will go away after a period of time. If it doesn’t, however, it can also cause abnormal cells and lead to cervical cancer.
If you have any of the risk factors of getting cervical cancer, it is recommended to get pap smear tests more often. The risk factors that can increase the chances of cervical cancer include:
- A past diagnosis or pap test that showed precancerous cells
- HIV infection
- A weakened immune system from specific medication, e.g. chemotherapy, chronic corticosteroid use
- Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth
- Family history of cervical cancer
How to Prepare for a Pap Smear Test
Your doctor will advise you on how best to prepare for a pap smear test and to get the best results. Here are a couple of points you can keep in mind before your next pap smear test for best results:
- Avoid intercourse or using any vaginal medication such as creams, jellies, or spermicidal foams as they may wash away or make it harder for abnormal cells to be detected during testing.
- Try to schedule in your pap smear test as far away from your menstrual period as possible as it may make it difficult for abnormal cells to be detected during testing.
What You Can Expect
- During: The entire procedure should only take a couple of minutes. After undressing, you will lay down on your back with your knees bent and pointing upwards. The doctor will gently insert a speculum into your vagina. This instrument will help hold your vaginal walls open so your doctor can easily view your cervix. Your doctor will then use a soft brush and scraping device to get a sample of the cells before concluding the test. Most times, it is painless.
- After: After your pap smear test, you can go about your day as per normal. You won’t feel any abnormalities in your groin region, nor will you have any physical restrictions. Your doctor will take the cell samples and preserve it in a holding container or a glass slide. They are then transferred to a laboratory to be put under the microscope to observe for any possible cancer cells. If cancer cells are present from the results, your doctor will call you in for further testing.
Potential Results from Pap Smear Tests
If your results return with no signs of abnormal cancer cells, then it’s considered as positive, and no further testing will be necessary for the time being or until the next scheduled testing. If Abnormal or unusual cells are discovered during testing, your doctor will call you in for further tests.
Please do note that not all abnormal or unusual results result in cervical cancer. It all depends on the type of findings that are discovered in the test results.
It’s important not to miss your next scheduled pap smear test as prevention, and early intervention of cervical cancer is crucial as it can be very complicated and detrimental should you allow cancer to grow.
To know more about cervical cancer, its risk factors, and complications, speak with your doctor today.
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