The cells scraped from the cervix opening are microscopically examined in a pap smear test. It is a quick, painless test to detect any early cell changes in the cervix, which may later lead to cancer.
A pap smear test is also known by other names, such as Papanicolaou test, pap test, cervical smear, or smear test. It is actually a screening test, which is used in gynecology to detect any pre-malignant, benign, or malignant conditions in the cervix. The test is named after the inventor of the test Georgios Papanikolaou, who was a Greek doctor.
The test is a non-invasive procedure which is used to screen for cancer of the cervix. Sample cells are taken from a woman’s cervix. The cells are tested to look for any changes in the cells of the cervix, which show cervical cancer or any other conditions that point towards cancer. It is said to be the best method to detect any precancerous elements, or hidden small tumors, which may eventually lead to cervical cancer. If cancer is detected on time, it can also be cured.
One important point to note is sex should be avoided for 48 hours before the test. Same is applicable for douching, taking a tub bath, and using tampons or a vaginal cream. It is recommended that the appointment should not be scheduled during the menstrual cycle, as blood and cells from the uterus may not give accurate results. Emptying the bladder before taking the test is also recommended.
Tests should be conducted beginning from the age of 21. Routine screening every two years for women in the age group of 21 to 29 is recommended. For women above the age of 30, who have had three consecutive normal test results, testing can be carried out every three years. The smear test can also be taken by pregnant women, as it does not prevent a woman from having a pap smear, and it can also be done safely during pregnancy. However, women who have had hysterectomy with removal of the cervix for benign conditions do not have to go in for the test. On the other hand, women who have undergone hysterectomy, but the cervix was not removed will have to continue with the screening.
The procedure is carried out during a pelvic exam. A device called speculum is used to widen the vaginal opening so that the cervix can be examined. A plastic spatula, small brush, or a cotton swab is used to collect cells from the cervix. The cells are placed in a solution, which is sent to a lab for testing. The results of the test may take as long as three weeks to come.
In Case of Abnormal Test Results
If the result of the test is normal, it simply means that the cells from the cervix are normal in the pap smear. Abnormal (unhealthy) cells means some more tests will have to be carried out. However, it does not necessarily indicate the presence of cancer cells. There are a number of causes for an abnormal smear. It is important to note that the smear rarely shows any signs of infection; hence, it should not be relied upon to screen sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
The test may have to be repeated if the woman had an infection while undergoing the test. It may also be repeated if there are insufficient number of cells collected during the test. Sometimes, decreased level of the female hormone estrogen may also influence the results. Menopausal women may have to take estrogen before the tests are repeated.
Lastly, it is normal to experience some discomfort, similar to menstrual cramps or a pressure feeling during the procedure. Some women may also bleed a little after the test, which is common.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and should not be substituted for the advice of a medical professional.