Cervical cancer is the name given to a malignant cancer of the cervix or cervical area (a part of the uterus). The problem with this type of cancer is that its symptoms are not visible, until at a very advanced stage. This is one of the main reasons why screening of women for cervical cancer has become quite important. This is where the Pap smear test comes into picture. It is a screening test that is conducted by a doctor, to check for signs of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is not fatal, if diagnosed at the right time.
When to have Pap Smear Test
You should have your first Pap smear test when you attain the age of 18 or when you starting having sex, whichever is earlier. Thereafter, the test should be taken once a year, till the time you've had at least 3 normal ones. After this stage has passed, go for test every 3 years, till the time you attain menopause.
Screening Test for Cervical Cancer (Procedure)
For conducting the Pap smear test, the doctor takes a sample of cells, from the cervix of a female, to be tested. For the purpose, he inserts a special instrument, known as a speculum, into the vagina. This enables the opening up of the vagina, so that the sample can be taken easily. The doctor cleans the cervix with a cotton swab and then, collects a sample of cells with a small brush, a tiny spatula or a cotton swab. The sample is then put on a slide and finally, sent for testing to see whether normal cells are dormant or turning into cancer cells.
If the Pap smear test is negative, it means that the result is normal. However, if by any chance, the test turns out to be positive, you have reasons for worry. Positive or abnormal Pap smear results mean that you have changes in the cells on your cervix. The changes might indicate towards:
- Inflammation - This is usually the result of an infection of the cervix. It might be a yeast infection, infection with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), infection with herpes virus or some other problem.
- Dysplasia - Early signs of cancer
- Carcinoma in Situ - Cancer cells affecting only the top layers of the cervix (but not going beyond the cervix)
- Advanced Cancer
After the Pap smear result test turns out to be positive, you doctor will either advise you to go for another Pap smear or to have a Colposcopy. Under a Colposcopy, the doctor takes a better look at the cervix. For this, he will use an instrument called a colposcope, which will throw a light on your cervix and magnify it. Thereafter, he will take a sample of tissue (called a biopsy). He will then explain the results and finally, tell you about the various treatment options.