What You Need to Know About Pap Smear

Pap Smear Test and Cervical Cancer Screening - DoctorOnCall

A Pap smear is a simple, quick test that can help detect cervical cancer in its earliest stages also called a pap test. It's important for women to get regular Pap smears as cervical cancer screening because early detection is key to successful treatment. Here are the answers to some common questions about Pap smears.

1. What is a Pap smear?

A Pap smear is a test that can detect changes in the cells of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. The test is named after Georgios Papanikolaou, who developed the method in the 1940s. During a Pap smear, a doctor or other healthcare provider will collect cells from the surface of the cervix using a small brush or spatula.

The cells are then examined under a microscope for any abnormal changes. Pap test is an essential part of preventive healthcare for women, as they can detect early signs of cervical cancer.

2. Why do you need a Pap smear?

A Pap smear is a cervical cancer screening which involves a simple test that can save your life. During a Pap smear, your doctor will collect a sample of cells from your cervix, which is the opening to your uterus using a liquid-based cytology technique or conventional pap smear preparation. The cells collected are then sent to a laboratory for testing. A Pap smear can detect changes in the cells of your cervix that could lead to cervical cancer.

Although cervical cancer is relatively rare, it is important to catch it early, as it is one of the most treatable forms of cancer when caught early. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, more than 93% of women diagnosed with cervical cancer at an early stage will survive for at least five years.

Cervical cancer screening via pap test is usually done once every three years, but women who are at high risk for cervical cancer may need regular pap smear tests. There are a number of factors that can increase a woman’s risk, including Human papillomavirus infection, smoking, and having a family history of cervical cancer. Pap smears are quick and easy, and they can potentially save lives by detecting cancer early. That’s why it’s important for all sexually active women to get regular Pap smears as recommended by their doctor.

Who needs to do a pap smear?

In general, all women who have ever been sexually active should get a Pap smear at least once every three years. However, there are some women who may be at higher risk for cervical cancer and need to get more frequent Pap smears. Risk factors for a woman to develop cervical cancer include:​

  • Have HIV or AIDS
  • Exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Family history of cervical cancer
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Taking medications that can weaken the immune system

3. How to prepare for the Pap smear?

While the screening test is generally quick and painless, some women may feel anxious about having it done. To help put your mind at ease, here are a few tips on how to prepare for the Pap smear test.

First, it's important to schedule the test when you won't be menstruating, as this can affect the results. You should also avoid douching or using vaginal medicines or creams for at least 24 hours before the test.

On top of that, you may want to empty your bladder before the procedure, as this can help to make you more comfortable.

4. What to expect during the Pap smear?

The test is usually done during a pelvic exam. The health care provider will use a special tool to collect a sample of cells from the surface of the cervix. The sample will then be sent to a laboratory for testing. In most cases, the results of the Pap smear will be normal. However, if abnormal cell changes are found, additional testing may be needed.

When you arrive for your appointment, you will be asked to undress from the waist down and to put on a gown. You will then lie on your back on an exam table, with your feet in stirrups. The health care provider will insert a speculum into your vagina and visualise the cervix. A small brush or spatula will be used to collect your cervical cells, which will be sent for analysis. The entire procedure usually takes less than 10 minutes.

Is the Pap smear painful?

Many women have questions about the Pap smear, including whether or not the test is painful. The answer to this question is that the Pap smear itself is not painful, but some women may experience discomfort when the speculum is inserted. You may also feel some discomfort when the swab is inserted to collect cells from your cervix, but it should only last for a few seconds.

Can I get a pap smear during my period?

You can get a pap smear during your period. However, it is best to avoid this time of the month if possible because the added blood can make it more difficult to obtain an accurate result. If you do get a pap smear during your period, be sure to tell your doctor or nurse so they can take appropriate precautions. It is important to remember that you should not use tampons or menstrual cups during the test. Doing so could increase your risk of infection.

5. How to recover after the Pap smear?

The Pap smear test is an important screening tool for cervical cancer. While the Pap smear is generally a safe and well-tolerated procedure, some women may experience discomfort or bleeding afterwards. Here are a few tips for recovery:​

  • Rest for at least 24 hours after the procedure.
  • Avoid strenuous activity, including sexual intercourse, for at least 48 hours.
  • Use a sanitary pad to absorb any spotting or bleeding.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication as needed for discomfort.

If you experience heavy bleeding, severe pain, or any other unusual symptoms, be sure to contact your healthcare provider. With proper care, most women recover quickly and without complication from a Pap smear test.

6. What are the risks and complications of a Pap smear?

While a Pap smear is generally considered to be a safe and reliable way to detect cervical cancer, there are a small number of risks and complications associated with the procedure. These include discomfort, bleeding, and infection. In rare cases, the procedure may also cause abnormal growth of tissue on the cervix. However, these complications are typically minor and can be easily treated. 

There is also a small risk that the Pap smear will detect abnormal cells that are not actually cancerous. These false-positive results can lead to unnecessary anxiety and additional medical procedures, such as biopsies. 

7. What your pap smear results will tell you?

A pap smear is a test that looks for changes in the cells of your cervix. The cervix is the opening to your uterus, and changes in the cells can sometimes indicate the presence of cancer or precancerous conditions.

Pap smear results are typically given as one of three types: normal, abnormal, or inconclusive. A normal result means that the cells appear healthy and there is no evidence of disease.

An abnormal result means that there are changes in the cells that could indicate cancer cells or precancers. Inconclusive results can occur for a variety of reasons, such as an insufficient sample or unclear results.

If you receive an abnormal or inconclusive result, your doctor may recommend additional testing, such as an HPV test or biopsy, to determine whether you have cancer or a precancer.

8. What if you have an abnormal pap smear?

Abnormal pap smears are unfortunately not uncommon- in fact, 1 in 10 pap smears come back abnormal. While this can be concerning, it does not necessarily mean you have cancer. Often, abnormal pap smears are caused by HPV, a virus that is very common- nearly all sexually active individuals will contract it at some point in their lives. There are many strains of HPV, and most of them do not cause any health problems. However, some strains can lead to cervical cancer.

Besides atypical squamous cells that may suggest abnormal findings, another abnormality that may be found during a pap test is cervical ectropion where your inner cervical cell lining grows on the outside.

This is why it's important to follow up with your doctor if you receive an abnormal pap smear result. They may recommend further testing or monitoring, but typically no treatment is necessary. So while an abnormal pap smear can be scary, it's usually nothing to worry about.

9. How much does a pap smear test cost?

In Malaysia, the cost of a pap smear can vary depending on the clinic or hospital where it is conducted. It is important to note that some clinics may also charge an additional fee for consultation or follow-up appointments.

10. Where can I get a pap smear test?

Cervical screening uptake among women in Malaysia is low, with only about 30% of women aged 21-49 years old having had a pap smear test. There are many reasons for this, including a lack of awareness about the importance of the test and its cost.

To make matters worse, cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Malaysian women. It is therefore crucial that more women get screened for the disease.

There are a few different places where you can get a pap test. Women in Malaysia can go to government health clinics, primary care physicians, gynaecologists, or a women’s health clinic for pap smear screening.

A pap smear is a routine test, recommended every 3 years for cervical cancer screening. If you have never gotten one be sure to do it soon. With DoctorOnCall, we can arrange the test for you hassle-free. A Pap smear is a safe and reliable way to detect cervical cancer, so don't wait - book an appointment today!

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