The earlier cervical cancer is diagnosed, the better your chances are for a good outcome.
The most effective way to test for cervical cancer is a Pap test (also called a Pap smear). It can also reveal changes in your cervical cells that may turn into cancer later.
Here are some answers to common questions about the Pap test, provided by the American Cancer Society, Women’s Health Magazine and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
What is a Pap test?
The Pap test takes a tiny sample of cervical tissue to detect cancerous cells or cells that might become cancerous in the future.
When should you get tested, and how often?
Doctors recommend women begin Pap testing at age 21, with follow up testing every three years from ages 21 to 65. The American Cancer Society says women 30 and older can have the test every five years, if they are tested at the same time for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). That’s the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), and it is linked to cervical cancer.
How do you prepare for the test?
Some things can cause incorrect Pap test results. For two days before the test do not:
- Use tampons
- Use vaginal creams, suppositories, or medicines
- Use vaginal deodorant sprays or powders
- Have sex
What happens during the test?
It’s done in your doctor’s office or clinic and takes about 10 to 20 minutes.
You will lie on a table with your feet placed firmly in stirrups. Your doctor will insert a metal or plastic tool (speculum) into your vagina. Your doctor will use a swab to take a sample of cells from your cervix. The sample will be placed into a liquid substance in a small jar, and sent to a lab for review.
Will it hurt?
It might be uncomfortable, but a Pap shouldn't hurt. Some women experience light bleeding afterward, but most don't. And those who do usually don't feel anything anyway.
What do the results mean?
Your doctor will get either a negative or positive result within a few days. If you physician says you have a “negative result”, that is good news. That means the pathologist did not find any unusual or potential cancer cells on your cervix.
A positive result does not necessarily mean you have cancer. Your cervix could be inflamed or have a minor cell change issue. Most often, a positive result means you need to be retested in a few months. If the same results appear, you will be scheduled for a follow up procedure called a colposcopy.
If I had a hysterectomy, do I still need the test?
It depends on the type of hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus) you had and your health history. Women who have had a hysterectomy should talk with their doctor about whether they need routine Pap tests.
What are the risk factors of getting cervical cancer?
Researchers have found a connection to HPV. However, other risks include smoking, a weakened immune system, a diet low in fruits and vegetables, being overweight, Intrauterine device (IUD) use, family history and long-term use of oral contraceptives.
The physicians in the Women’s Health Specialists at Johnson Memorial Hospital are here to answer your questions and provide you with information about the Pap test. You can reach them at the Franklin office, 317.738.0630, or at the Whiteland office, 317.530.3111.