Cervical Health: The Importance of Pap Smears and Early Detection of Cervical Cancer
- Posted on: Nov 9 2023
Every year, thousands of women worldwide are diagnosed with cervical cancer. However, with regular screenings and early detection, the chances of preventing this disease are significantly increased. Pap smears, a critical aspect of cervical health, play a crucial role in this prevention strategy.
A Pap smear, also known as a Pap test, is a procedure used to test for cervical cancer in women. The test involves collecting cells from the cervix – the lower, narrow end of the uterus that’s at the top of the vagina. Detecting cervical cancer early with a Pap smear gives you a greater chance at a cure.
Pap smears can detect changes in your cervical cells that suggest cancer may develop in the future. Diagnosing cervical cancer early means it’s usually easier to treat. Some Pap tests detect human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that can lead to the development of cervical cancer. A Pap smear can also detect changes in cervical cells that can turn into cancer (called dysplasia). Treatments for moderate-to-severe dysplasia or mild dysplasia that does not go away may include cryosurgery to freeze abnormal cells, laser therapy, which uses light to burn away abnormal tissue, or LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure), which uses electricity to remove abnormal tissue and prevent the development of cervical cancer.
Women should start undergoing Pap smears at age 21. Between the ages of 21 to 29 women should have a Pap smear every 3 years. Women aged 30 to 65 are advised to continue having a Pap smear every 3 years, or every 5 years if combined with an HPV test. Those over 65 can stop having Pap smears if they’ve had regular screenings in the past decade with no serious precancers found. Your medical provider will advise you on your specific screening needs.
During the test, you will lie on your back on an examination table with your knees bent. Your doctor will gently insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina to see the cervix. Inserting the speculum may cause a sensation of pressure in your pelvic area. Then your doctor will take samples of your cervical cells using a soft brush and a flat scraping device called a spatula. This usually doesn’t hurt.
Cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers if detected early. However, it does not show symptoms until an advanced stage. Hence, regular screenings are vital even if you feel perfectly fine. It’s a proactive step towards safeguarding your health. Cervical health should never be taken lightly. With the vast majority of cervical cancer cases being preventable, the importance of regular Pap smears cannot be emphasized enough. It’s a small test, but it can make a significant difference. If it’s time for your screening or if you have further questions, make an appointment with your OB/GYN today. Your future self will thank you.