A pap smear, often known as a pap test, is a procedure in which a healthcare specialist collects cells from your cervix and examines them under a microscope for signs of cancer. Pap smears can also detect infections and inflammation. The term "pap" refers to the American doctor who invented the test, Dr. George Papanicolaou.
What is a pap smear?
The pap smear, like the IVA and HPV tests, aims to identify cervical cancer and precancerous cells in the cervix, as well as Human papillomavirus (HPV) and common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that raise the risk of cervical cancer.
Meanwhile, the HPV test is used to "look for" the HPV virus, which might cause cervical cell alterations. Early detection of cancer raises the likelihood of a cure.
Women under the age of 21 do not need to be screened. Meanwhile, women aged 21 to 65 should have routine examinations every three years. However, starting in 2020, it will be recommended once a year in Indonesia, given that cervical cancer is the second-highest cause of death among women.
If you are 30 years old and have taken this test three times in a row with normal results, you can repeat it every five years. The test can cease when you are 65–70 years old.
How does this work?
The HPV and Pap tests can be performed in a clinic or hospital. During this procedure, the doctor will look within the vagina with a plastic or metal speculum. The doctor examines the vagina and cervix and collects cells and mucus from the cervix and surrounding area. These samples will be forwarded to a laboratory for analysis.
The Pap test usually takes only 10–20 minutes. Although it is harmless, you may have mild cramping or soreness. Reach out to your doctor if the pain or bleeding lasts more than 24 hours.
No specific preparation is required to perform a Pap test. Pay close attention to the following elements to ensure accurate test results:
- Do not have intercourse for two days before the test.
- Avoid douching (cleaning the vagina with specific fluids), vaginal medicines, or spermicidal foam for at least two days before the test.
- If you're having periods, do it five days after or after cleaning.
- The test can still be performed throughout the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, but if the gestational age is greater than that, avoid it. You can do it after 12 weeks of delivery.
You may be nervous about your test results. Be patient. It will take at least three weeks to arrive. If your test findings are normal, your chances of acquiring cervical cancer in the following several years are quite low. The doctor will advise you on the next cervical cancer screening test. Nonetheless, please visit your doctor on a regular basis for checkups.
Abnormal test results do not always imply that you have cervical cancer. It is possible that there are aberrant cells in the cervix, such as
- Atypical squamous cells are aberrant cells that form on the cervix's outer layer. This condition could imply an HPV infection, a yeast infection, or the development of a benign tumor, such as a cyst or polyp.
- Infrapatellar squamous lesion refers to abnormal epithelial cells that have the potential to become cancer cells at variable rates depending on severity.
- Atypical glandular cells are aberrant cells that create mucus. These cells develop in the cervical canal and the uterus. Yet, it is unknown whether these cells will develop into cancer.
- Squamous cell cancer and adenocarcinoma indicate the presence of cancer cells in the cervix. If the Pap test results show cancer, the doctor will provide appropriate therapy and follow-up.
Based on the results of these tests, the doctor may increase the frequency of Pap smears or do a colposcopy procedure to examine the cervical tissue more closely.
During a colposcopy exam, the doctor uses light and magnification to examine the vaginal and cervical tissues in more detail. In some cases, the doctor may perform a biopsy to obtain a sample of cervical tissue.
Take note that Pap test results should be interpreted by a qualified healthcare professional. They will provide more extensive information about the Pap test results and recommend the next steps.