A woman may come across a variety of gynecological issues during her lifespan, with some as minor as irregular menstruation and vaginal dryness to major ones such as female infertility and cancers of reproductive organs. Amongst the most common types of cancers of reproductive organs is cervical cancer, which claims thousands of lives every year. Timely detection and treatment can be life saving for the women who are at risk of developing cervical cancer.

Pap smear is the diagnostic procedure used to identify the presence of precancerous/cancerous cells in the cervix. The test involves gentle scraping the cervical tissue and its examination for abnormal growth of cells. Any abnormality detected during the test does not necessarily mean that the woman has cervical cancer, but it can be a precancerous condition which can be nipped in the bud if detected in time.

Pap smear- The Procedure

Pap smear test needs to be scheduled by taking the woman’s menstrual cycle into consideration; that is, it should not be done during the period. Similarly, sexual intercourse, use of spermicidal and douching should be avoided for 48 hours before the test as these may give misleading results. Normally, the test is painless though it may involve some discomfort and being relaxed is the best way to have it done smoothly.

During Pap smear, the woman is made to lie on the examination table with her feet put up in stirrups. Then the doctor inserts a speculum in the vagina to open up its walls and get access to the cervix. Following this, he will gently scrape a cell sample from the cervix with the help of a spatula. The test is done is quickly and the woman may feel mild pressure and irritation during the procedure followed by mild cramping and sometimes, light bleeding later on. She can resume day to day activities after the test.

Pap smear test is of two types, the conventional Pap smear in which the cell sample is transferred on a glass slide, and the liquid base Pap smear, during which the sample is preserved in a special liquid inside a container. It is then taken to the laboratory and examined microscopically to test for the presence of abnormal cells. The test results are usually available in a week’s time. An abnormal result indicates that further tests need to be done.

Who all should opt for Pap smear?

All women who are past the age of 21 years needs to get a Pap smear after every three years.  Those between 30 and 65 years would require one in every five years and women beyond 65 years of age can stop testing. Sexually active women who are susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases such as HPV must take the test more often. Though Pap smear does not establish the presence of the virus, it can identify cellular changes caused by it and give an indication of possibility of cervical cancer at a later stage. In this way, Pap smear can be used as an effective measure to detect the disease in time and prevent it from aggravating.

Those who are HIV positive, have had an organ implant or are being treated with chemotherapy also need frequent Pap smears as they have weakened immunity and are at high risk of developing infections and cancerous conditions. Symptoms such as abnormal vaginal bleeding and pain can indicate cervical cancer and need to be taken seriously enough to carry out the Pap smear in between the recommended interval.

Pap smear results

Regular Pap smear testing can be an effective measure to save women from the potentially life threatening condition of cervical cancer as the test is easy to perform and accurate. A normal result means that everything is good to go and the woman needs to go for a repeat test only after a three year period. On the other hand, an abnormal diagnosis can point to precancerous condition.

In such cases, an advanced test called colposcopy is recommended for establishing the presence of cancer of the cervix. The procedure involves taking a closer look at the cervical and vaginal tissues using an advanced magnifying instrument called colposcope. The doctor may also prescribe biopsy of cervical tissue where it is needed.

Besides indicating the risk of cervical cancer, an abnormal Pap smear may also be caused cervical/vaginal infection and inflammation, which may be due to unsafe sex and use of diaphragm. Pap smear test is a safety measure for all women and they should make sure that they undergo the same after regular intervals to have the disease detected and treated in time.

Gaudium IVF is the top IVF Centre in Delhi, India which is reputed to bring advanced infertility techniques and gynecological care for its patients. The clinic helps patients deal with chronic complications such as cervical cancer and also manage the risk with timely diagnosis.

Contact here for free second opinion from Dr Manika Khanna, the top infertility specialist in India.