What are PAP Smears and Why are They So Important?

Ladies let’s look at the facts and then the reasons why not to have a pap smear.

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Pap smear is the name given to this lifesaving procedure, which was first invented by George Papanicolaou, a Greek pioneer in cytology, in the 1920s. A simpler version was introduced later in the 1950s.

A Pap smear is a painless procedure whereby cells are gently scraped away from the opening of the uterus, that is to say, the cervix. This quick procedure is carried out by our female gynaecologist in her consulting room and entails inserting an instrument called a speculum into the vagina and a swab is used to gently collect a sample of cells. These cell samples are then examined and tested by a pathologist in a lab for any abnormalities like precancerous or cancerous cells.

Most cervical cancers (up to 90%) are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which is transmitted sexually through vaginal, oral and anal sex. HPV types 16 and 18 cause a higher risk of cervical cancer and vaccines do exist to protect against infection by these particular strains. The vaccines are available for women between the ages of 13 and 26. However, even if you have received the HPV vaccine, you should continue getting regular tests as it doesn’t protect against all cervical cancers.

Statistics show that cervical cancer is the most common in women between 35 and 44 years of age, yet over 15% of new cases are in women over the ages of 65 who have not undergone regular checks.

Every year, in Europe, over 61,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and almost 26,000 die from the disease. It is the 9th leading cause of female cancer and the 2nd most common cause of female cancer in women aged 15 to 44. These numbers, however, can be reduced to a great extent with regular HPV screening and Pap smears.

Official guidelines state that a woman should have a Pap test once every three years if she 21 years old or over and sexually active or within the first three years after becoming sexually active, whichever one comes first.

From the age of 30 onwards, a combination of the Pap smear and screening for the HPV virus is considered the best thing to do as the HPV screening can pick up cervical abnormalities earlier than the Pap test.

For women who are 65 years old or older or who have had a hysterectomy, it is advised that they consult with a good gynaecologist whether they need to continue to be tested or not.

Women at higher risk — such as those who have had cervical cancer before, are HIV positive or have suppressed immune systems — may have to be tested more regularly.

The greatest advantage of regular Pap smears is early detection which is paramount as early detection of abnormal cells means that treatment can be started before they spread and pose a bigger problem.

Moreover, regular Pap smears reduce cervical cancer and mortality rates by at least 80% and also pick up on the presence of other infections.

At worst, a Pap smear can be mildly uncomfortable but why wait until you notice something unusual before you have one as it may then be too late. It is important to note that symptoms do not appear during the early stages of cervical cancer. Once the symptoms appear, it is more difficult to treat or may even be too late to treat.

Fortunately, this type of cancer grows very slowly so, when detected early, it can be treated immediately and prevent further problems.

Another reason to take into consideration is that no medical test is ever 100% accurate. If one test fails to detect the abnormality, the next one will. Even more importantly, when detected early, the cervical cancer survival rate is almost 100%.

So, there is the message, loud and clear: PREVENTION RATHER THAN CURE.

There are the facts. Now, the reasons to not have a Pap smear: ABSOLUTELY NONE!

We tend to spend so much time caring for others – such as our children, our partner, our elderly parents – that we tend to neglect ourselves and our wellbeing. Come on ladies, search that “top gynaecologist near me” and get a test done.

Don’t delay any longer. Rather be safe than sorry and make your gynaecological appointment today!