Pap smear, also known as Pap test, is an essential screening tool for women's health, and it is crucial in India, where cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women. The test is recommended for all women aged 21 and above and can help detect the presence of abnormal cells in the cervix, which can be a sign of cervical cancer or precancerous conditions.
How is the Pap Smear Test done?
The Pap smear procedure is simple and can be performed by a gynecologist or a trained healthcare professional. The test involves collecting a sample of cells from the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. The sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis.
What takes place during a Pap Smear?
Pap smears can be unpleasant but the procedure is short.
During the process, you will lie on your back on an examination table, legs wide and feet resting on stirrups.
Your doctor will gradually insert 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.
Others use 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.
You may have mild discomfort from the scraping or cramping after the exam. You may also have very minor vaginal bleeding just after the exam. Inform your doctor if any discomfort or bleeding persists following the test.
Who should do it?
The Pap smear is recommended for all women, particularly those who are sexually active. However, women who have never been sexually active may still develop cervical cancer, and therefore, they should also undergo screening. Women who have had a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) and have no history of cervical cancer or pre-cancerous conditions may not need to have Pap smears anymore. However, it is always best to check with your doctor to determine what is right for your individual situation.
Why should you do a Pap Smear Test?
Pap smear screening aims to detect any abnormalities in the cervix before they turn into cancer. The test can detect changes in the shape and size of the cells in the cervix, which may be an early sign of cervical cancer. Early detection is crucial because cervical cancer can be treated successfully if detected early.
There are several risk factors for cervical cancer, including human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, smoking, a weakened immune system, and a family history of cervical cancer. Women who have these risk factors may need to undergo more frequent Pap smear screening.
In India, there are various initiatives to increase awareness about the importance of Pap smear screening and to make it more accessible to women. The Indian government launched the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke (NPCDCS) in 2010, which includes a focus on cervical cancer screening. The program aims to provide screening services to women in both rural and urban areas.
Community health workers have also been trained to provide basic screening services to women in rural areas. Additionally, mobile health clinics have been set up to provide screening and follow-up care to women who cannot access healthcare facilities easily.
What do the results mean?
It is important to note that the Pap smear is not 100% accurate and may produce false-positive or false-negative results. A false-positive result means that the test suggests abnormal cells are present when they are not, while a false-negative result means that the test suggests no abnormal cells are present when they are. Therefore, it is essential to follow up on abnormal Pap smear results with additional tests, such as a colposcopy or a biopsy.
Pap smear screening is essential in India to prevent cervical cancer, which is the second most common cancer among women in the country. Women aged 21 and above, particularly those who are sexually active, should undergo regular screening to detect any abnormalities in the cervix before they turn into cancer. Initiatives to increase awareness about screening and to make it more accessible to women are essential to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer in India and save lives.