Pap smear tests are mainly performed for screening of cervical cancer. A woman who is 21 years of age or above should schedule herself once a year for Pap smear testing.
This has been made mandatory by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists considering that every two in three women have cervical cancer. Ideally, women between the ages 21 and 29 can get a pap smear done once every two years. However, from 30 years onwards the test should be performed every year. Schedule your Pap smear test two weeks after the start of your menstrual cycle.
Follow a few simple tips to ensure that you get correct results from the Pap smear test since this is done but annually.
Things NOT to do 48 hours before the test:
• Do not douche
• Do not indulge in penetrative sex
• Don’t take bath in the tub
• Don’t swim
• Don’t use tampons, vaginal lubricants, spermicides, powders, sprays or creams in the vagina.
Indulging in any of the above can disturb the cells in the cervix. Avoiding the above mentioned activities will help in comfortable performance of the test.
Things Your Doctor Will Ask
Your doctor will want to talk to your for five or ten minutes before the test to get to know your medical history. Hence a good idea would be to arrive 15 minutes prior to your appointment. This way the doctor will not be rushed. Your doctor might want to know
• The date of the first day of your last menstrual cycle
• Whether you are sexually active or not
• If your are pregnant
• If you take hormonal or contraceptive pills
• If you have had any form of venereal diseases
• Whether you are on any medication
• Have ever had surgery, radiation or chemotherapy
• Have children or nor and whether you had normal or c-section deliveries
• If anyone in your maternal side of the family has ever been diagnosed with cervical cancer
• If you have had any abnormal pap smear test results
After checking your history the doctor will begin the pap smear test on you.
How is a Pap Smear Test Done?
The test is performed by a qualified medical practitioner in a clinic or a hospital. Sometimes the doctor’s assistant, a mid wife or a medical nurse might also perform the test. The test involves a pelvic examination which all of them are qualified to perform. The pelvic examination can determine if the woman suffers from any other cancer or abnormality of the reproductive system other than diagnosing cervical cancer.
You will be asked to remove all your clothes and given a short hospital gown to wear. The gown will be open in the front. You will have to lie on your back on the examination table. Bend your knees and place your feet on the stirrups hanging from in front of the table. Remember to take a deep breath and relax the muscles in your pelvis.
During the examination the doctor will insert a medical instrument made from metal or plastic into the vagina. This instrument is called the speculum. The speculum opens the vagina making it possible for the insertion of a soft bristled brush to scratch cells from the canal that connects the cervix and the uterus. In some cases the doctor might use a wooden spatula or a sterile cotton swab to collect the cells. Typically the cervical cancer originates in this canal.
Ask your doctor to collect cells from the back of the cervical canal as well. About 10% of cervical cancers begin from the back of the cervical canal.
The doctor will place the sample cells on a glass slide, attach your name tag to the slide and send it to the lab for examination. In the lab the lab technician will examine the cells under a microscope to check for any abnormal cell growth.
Once the doctor collects the sample cells he will remove the speculum from inside the vagina. At this stage the doctor will perform a pelvic examination to check for any other diseases of the reproductive system. The pelvic examination is done by inserting two gloved fingers inside the vagina.
The doctor will place his other hand on the patient’s stomach and press lightly. This positioning of the hands is useful for determining that the size, shape and weight of the uterus, ovaries, vagina and the fallopian tubes have not changed and are consistent.
After the pelvic examination the doctor will insert one gloved finger inside the rectum to check for abnormalities like piles, hemorrhoids etc. in the rectum and the surrounding areas.
Some women experience a mild discomfort including light bleeding, abdominal pain, and pressure or cramping in the pelvic area. Carry a thin sanitary pad or a panty liner with you in case you experience light bleeding. Don’t use a tampon now. Some women have light spotting after pelvic examinations though it is not a cause of concern. The bleeding is very light and usually stops after a couple of hours. Some women might have a slight backache as well due to the pelvic examination.
Home kits for Pap smear test are also available with most leading chemists and many hospitals. However, there are highly unlikely to be accurate and even less likely to detect cancer threats than the tests results tested in labs.
The home kits might also erroneously show a woman healthy when she is suffering from serious abnormalities of the reproductive system. Hence home test kits cannot be relied upon for giving proper test results. A visit to a doctor can save you worry and pain in the future.
The person who prepares your Pap smear test results is called a cytotechnologist. He/ she is a trained professional with the ability to recognize any abnormal cell growth indicating cancerous or precancerous stages.
It is a good idea to check if the lab preparing your report is accredited or not with the College of American Pathologists Public Information Service. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider as soon as you receive the results of the Pap smear test. Your doctor will want to examine the report to look for any danger signs.