Learn about the Pap smear test that helps detect presence of cervical cancer
One of the most common types of cancer in women, cervical cancer is easy to detect using a Pap smear. This test also helps to detect the presence of any infection in the uterus or vagina. Unfortunately, not many women in India know about this test; the World Health Organization says that only around 2.6 percent of Indian women in the age group of 18 to 69 years undergo the Pap smear test. Here is information about this important test that all women should have at least once in three years.
How the Test Works
A sample is drawn from the cervix and vagina and this is allowed to react with a special dye known as the Pap stain. When observed under the microscope, it shows the presence of abnormal cells or microorganisms.
Sometimes, the doctor may also request a HPV DNA test along with a pap smear to check for the presence of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a common viral infection transmitted during sexual intercourse.
HPV screening is important because research has shown that women with this infection are at a greater risk of developing cervical cancer.
When to Perform a Pap Smear Test
The frequency with which the Pap smear test is required depends on the age of the woman as well as her level of sexual activity. Generally, testing is recommended once every two years for women aged between 21 and 29 years of age, and once in three years at 30 years of age and beyond.
Doctors advise the HPV DNA test in combination with the Pap smear to women aged above 30. Doctors also recommend a Pap smear to women who have many sexual partners, abnormal bleeding from the vagina, itching and abnormal white discharge from the vagina, and pain or sores in the vagina. Women who are known to have had an organ transplant or HIV infection also require routine screening for cervical cancer through the Pap smear.
What the Results Indicate
If your Pap smear report says “negative,” it indicates that the cells observed in the sample are free from infection.
If the report says “unsatisfactory,” it indicates that a clear identification was not possible or that the sample was not collected correctly; in such cases, it is advisable to do a repeat test.
If the report reads “benign,” it indicates the presence of some infection and irritation, but not cancer.
The terms “adenocarcinoma” or “squamous cell carcinoma” indicate definite evidence of cancer that requires immediate treatment.
Terms that identify the degree of abnormality of the cells such as “low-grade changes” and “high-grade changes” indicate the likelihood of HPV infection that can subsequently develop into cervical cancer.
Factors that Affect Results
The results of the Pap smear test are affected by certain actions and therefore, it is important you avoid these before you present yourself for the test.
- Douching or bathing in a tub two to three days before the sampling
- Using a vaginal cream two to three days before the test
- Having sexual intercourse 24 hours or lesser before the test
- Being on medication with drugs such as tetracycline or digitalis
- Menstrual bleeding
Cervical cancer is more common that we realize and its incidence in women is second only to that of breast cancer. Performing the Pap smear test at the specified intervals is an easy way to protect yourself through an early diagnosis of this treatable form of cancer.