Cervical Cancer Prevention: The Pap Smear
A healthy reproductive system requires undergoing regular Pap smears or Pap tests in order to check for signs of cervical cancer. In fact, the Pap smear is one the easiest and most effective tools available for the prevention of cervical cancer. Pap tests can often detect the signs of an HPV (human papilloma virus, which is often linked to cervical cancer.
What is HPV?
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that causes genital warts. Not every woman with HPV will develop cervical cancer because the immune system often fights the infection when it becomes exposed to it.
However, in some cases women can go for years without knowing they have HPV (herpes for example) and eventually the cells lining the cervix will mutate and cause cervical cancer. For this reason, it is imperative that women see doctors regulary. Should an STD, such as herpes, be found, it must be dealt with so that hopefully there is never an outbreak again.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer affecting a woman's reproductive system. According to the American Cancer Society, about 11,000 women are diagnosed annually with cervical cancer in the United States.
However, in the last 50 years, with the introduction of the Pap smear, the number of deaths caused by cervical cancer have dropped significantly.
What is a Pap Smear?
A pap smear, also known as a pap test, is a quick and safe test that allows your doctor to check for signs of cervical cancer in the cervix.
Cervical cancer is not life-threatening if detected early because the chances of treating the cancer are as high as 90% with early detection. This is why getting a pap smear once a year is so important.
Pap Smear: The Procedure
During the Pap smear, a doctor will gently clean the cervix with a cotton swab after slightly opening the vagina with a speculum.
After cleaning, a sample of cells from the cervix are collected and smeared onto a microscopic slide. The slide is sprayed with a fixative or placed in a preservative and is sent for lab examination.
During examination, the sample is placed under a microscope and checked for signs of any abnormal changes. Cells will go through a number of changes before they become malignant or cancerous.
Pap Tests Results: Normal Smear vs. Abnormal Smear
In a normal Pap smear, no abnormal cells are present in the sample. The sample is labeled as negative. However, it is still important to get regular pap smears in order to maintain a healthy cervix.
In an abnormal Pap smear,
your sample tests positive. A positive Pap smear can be a sign of a number of changes in the cells of your cervix, that are not necessarily cancerous.
How Common are Abnormal Pap Smear Results?
Abnormal smear results are common for women between the ages of 25 to 35 years. According to the National Cancer Institute, out of the 5 million Pap tests performed each year in the United States, approximately 6% are abnormal and will require treatment.
An abnormal Pap smear result simply means that there are cells in the cervix that look different from the other cells. More than often, an abnormal Pap smear indicates the presence of a vaginal or cervical infection that produces changes to the structure of the cells. These changes should be followed closely until normal conditions return.