The Papanicolaou smear, abbreviated as PAP smear, is a test to detect precancerous or cancerous cells (which can lead to cancer in future) in your cervix.
Cervix cancer is one of the most common cancers seen in Indian females. India accounts for more than 25% of global cervical cancer deaths each year.
In an interaction with OnlyMyHealth editorial team, Dr Ishu Gupta, Consultant, Medical Oncology, Fortis Hospital, Noida, explained the importance of PAP smear test to prevent cervical cancer.
Cervix cancer is a curable, and preventable cancer. When detected in the early stages more than 92 per cent of cervix cancer patients get cured. When it is slightly advanced but has not spread outside the pelvic cavity, about 60 percent of patients get cured. Once cervix cancer has spread to distant organs only about 15 percent of patients live more than 5 years.
Procedure Of Pap smear
The process involved in the PAP smear is a bit uncomfortable, but the procedure takes a little time.
During the process, you will lie on your back on an examination table, with your legs wide and feet resting on stirrups.
Your doctor will gradually push a speculum into your vagina. This device maintains the vaginal walls open while allowing access to the cervix.
A little sample of cells from your cervix will be scraped by your doctor. Your doctor can take this sample in several ways:
- A spatula is a tool that some people use.
- Some people employ a spatula and a brush.
- Others make use of a cytobrush, which is a spatula and brush in one.
- During the brief scrape, most women feel a tiny pressure and irritation.
Your cervix cells will be stored and submitted to a lab to be checked for the presence of abnormal cells.
How Pap Smear Can Reduce The Risk Of Cervical Cancer
If cervix cancer is detected early, it clearly gives the patient a greater chance of a cure. Pap Smear is the most important test to help us detect cervical cancer early. In fact, A Pap smear can also detect alterations in your cervical cells that indicate the development of cancer in the future. As per WHO, routine PAP smear testing can help reduce the risk of cervix cancer mortality by more than 80 per cent.
When PAP Smear Is Recommended
It is recommended that all women start PAP smear screening at the age of 21 years. If your PAP smear is normal, it is recommended to continue doing it every 3 years until you turn 65 years.
Sometimes a PAP smear is combined with another test called the HPV test. This aims to detect the HPV virus (the main culprit for cervical cancer). When this HPV test is done along PAP smear the combination of tests is repeated every 5 years.
These tests are done more frequently if you have other risk factors for developing cervical cancer. These risk factors include A Pap smear that showed precancerous cells, Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth, HIV infection, weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy or chronic corticosteroid use or history of smoking.
PAP smear is a simple test, which takes 5 minutes of your time. It is painless. It practically has no side effects. And it can save up to 80 percent of lives lost due to cervix cancer.
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