Everything You Need To Know About The “Dreaded” Pap Smear
Yeah, yeah, we all know how important a Pap smear is… but how many of us can say we look forward to them? *Crickets*. Here’s why you shouldn’t dread the procedure – and why it’s critical that you have it done.
Why You MUST Go For A Pap Smear
“Cervical cancer is a serious disease and it can only be detected with a Pap smear,” says Dr Seboleo Mojaki, gynaecologist and obstetrician based at the Advanced Groenkloof day hospital. “I know there are hundreds of women who don’t go for regular Pap smears because they’re intimidated by the process, fearful of test results or simply embarrassed by their bodies. I often hear women say how petrified they are when they come for Pap smears, and I can understand this wholeheartedly and know how uncomfortable it is. But it is so incredibly important to have this test done regularly as it’s the best way to screen for cervical cancer. Early detection saves lives,” says Mojaki.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among South African women – one in 39 of us! The good news: It’s curable if detected and treated in the early stages, which is why going for regular check-ups are so important. Here, Mojaki highlights the five most common questions asked about Pap smears:
When And How Often Should I Have A Pap Smear?
The South African HPV Advisory Board recommends that a woman should begin having Pap smears when she becomes sexually active or turns 21. Annual testing should be done until the age of 30; after that, every three years.
Why Do I Need A Pap Smear?
The sample that is taken during your Pap smear is generally tested for HPV (human papillomavirus), which is a virus transferred during sex. There are many different types of HPV, some of which are linked to cervical cancer. Doctors are able to spot HPV even before changes can be seen on the cervix. This means women at risk of cervical cancer can be identified much earlier and their health can be monitored closely.
The test also looks for changes in the cells of your cervix. Changes happen very slowly, but can lead to serious problems like cervical cancer. The scary thing about cervical cancer is that there are no symptoms until the advanced stage. If abnormal cells are picked up on your Pap smear, your doc will be able to treat it, lowering your risk of developing cervical cancer.
How Is A Pap Smear Taken?
Your doctor will ask you to lie back and will gently insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina, allowing her to view your cervix. A brush or spatula is then used to take a sample of cells from just inside the opening of your cervix. This sample is then sent for testing.
It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t make your appointment when you are on your period as it may be more difficult to get a clear result on the test.
Does It Hurt?
Pap smears don’t hurt – they’re just a little bit uncomfortable and, to be frank, awkward. The discomfort lasts for a few short minutes as the test is quick to perform. Try to relax as much as possible during the procedure – as this will reduce the discomfort.
What Happens After The Pap Smear?
The lab will examine the sample and check for irregular cells. If there are irregular cells, your doctor will give you a call and explain the next steps.
“I want women to know that they have nothing to be scared about… My message to women is Pap smears are a part of life. Stop skipping your annual check-ups and make your health a priority,” says Mojaki. Contact your nearest Advanced Health day hospital for assistance in finding a doctor to help you or for more info on where to get an examination or screening.