A Pap test or a Pap smear is an exam conducted by a doctor to test for cervical cancer in women. The test got its name from Georgios Papanikolaou, the doctor who determined the test as a useful way of detecting cervical cancer. The test determines if there are any precancerous or cancerous cells present on the cervix, the opening of the uterus. A pap smear test along with a pelvic exam has been proven to be one of the best combinations for ensuring the health and longevity of women in the long run. The test is usually performed in your gynecologist’s clinic and lasts for about 10 to 20 minutes. It is a mildly uncomfortable procedure, but is largely painless. Women should avoid using tampons or sexual intercourse two days prior to a Pap smear.
How is the test performed?
Usually done in the doctor’s clinic or office, you are supposed to lie down and spread your legs, while your feet are placed in stirrups. Your doctor will take a plastic or metal speculum and insert it into your vagina to widen the walls. By this, she can see your cervix and gently scrape off cells using a swab. These cells are then placed into a small jar that contains a liquid substance, then sent to a lab for testing and reviewing. The test isn’t a painful one, but you might feel slightly uncomfortable. It is advisable to relax your muscles and stay calm at this time because the more dropped apart and relaxed your muscles are, the easier, more comfortable and quicker the procedure will be.
During the procedure
With a gloved hand, your gynecologist will touch the outer portion or the exterior of your vulva and separate the labia. He/she will check around for any signs of abnormalities and confirm normalcy. A plastic or metal tool, known as a speculum, is then inserted into your vagina to widen the opening. The speculum is basically similar to a tampon, with the exception that it has a handle for facilitating ease of maneuver. It helps your doctor to get a better view of the inside of your vagina – the vaginal walls, and the cervix; which is the opening of your uterus.
The cervix is situated high up in the vagina, representing a mini bagel projecting inside the vagina. It is basically a nose like, firm protrusion, which can be a little hard to find, but is usually located by an experienced doctor with ease, with the help of the speculum.
Once the cervix has been located and the speculum has been put in place, your gynecologist will collect a sample of the exterior part of your cervix by gently scraping the sides of your cervix. It is done with the help of a spatula. Once this is done, another sample will be collected from the area between your cervical canal to the womb, also known as the endocervix, with the help of a cytobrush. The tools are meant to be used gently and usually do not cause any pain. However, some women have a very tender cervix and might experience a little more discomfort as compared to others. So if you do, don’t worry – it is fairly normal.
The samples collected are stored in a liquid-based container so as to prevent the cells from drying out and dying. At this point, your gynecologist will remove the speculum from the vagina, and then perform a manual examination of your ovaries and the uterus. This is done by inserting two fingers of one hand inside the vagina, with the other hand on the belly, looking for abnormalities.
After the test
The samples collected are sent to a lab for testing and viewing under a microscope for abnormal growth or any other symptoms of cancer and potential diseases. The results are normally obtained within two weeks. If your results show some abnormalities, your gynecologist will advise you on the further course of action.
How often should you get it done?
A Pap test is generally recommended for all women who are sexually active or have ever been so, ranging from the age of 18 to 65. It is encouraged to have a Pap test performed every two years or one to two years after the first incidence of sexual activity; whichever is later. You need to take this test more frequently if-
You have a weakened immune system due to an organ transplant or chemotherapy
- You are an HIV Positive
- If you were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth.
- A diagnosis of a Pap smear or cervical cancer.
Don’t forget to take Pap test regularly as delayed testing can put you at a greater risk and may complicate the problems. You can stop Pap smears at age 65 if the results of the cervical cancer tests have been negative. Want to know more? Download Portea’s mobile app and chat with a doctor for free.