By: Dr T Mangena
It is estimated that every year in the South Africa, approximately 15,900 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and approximately 4,100 of those women will die of the disease. While these figures still remain too high the good news is that the majority of deaths caused by cervical cancer can be avoided if it is caught early on.
Unlike most cancers, cervical cancer is not a disease of the elderly. Instead, the average age of diagnosis of cervical cancer is just 47 years old and approximately 47% of women with invasive cervical cancer are younger than 35 years of age at diagnosis. So as a life-threatening illness that affects women of all ages, but especially the young, it is important to get your pap smears regularly.
WHAT IS PAP SMEAR?
A Pap smear, also called a Pap test, is a procedure to test for cervical cancer in women. After your Gynaecologist has carried out a routine pelvic exam, they will use a soft brush to take a tiny sample of cells from the cervix (the narrow end of your uterus that’s at the top of your vagina). The procedure itself is fast, relatively pain-free and takes no more than 10 minutes.
It is recommended that women should have a Pap smear every three years starting at age 21 After age 30, your doctor may decrease the frequency to every three years if you’ve had three normal Pap test results in a row and if your immune system has not been weakened by a virus or recent health condition.
WHY ARE PAP SMEARS IMPORTANT?
The short answer to this question is that getting pap smears done on a regular basis saves lives. If the pap test detects any irregular cells that have the potential to develop into cervical cancer, women can get the appropriate treatment they need right away to stop cancer from developing.
WHAT PROBLEMS CAN A PAP SMEAR DETECT?
Pap smears are not designed to detect cervical cancer. Instead, cervical cancer screening is used to find changes in the cells of the cervix that could lead to cancer in the future. Therefore when abnormal cells are detected by pap smear, your doctor will recommend certain treatments to stop cancer from developing in the first place.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A PAP SMEAR TEST?
Pap smears are generally painless and are usually carried out during a pelvic exam. Your Gynaecologist will guide you through the entire process which usually takes no more than a few minutes. A speculum which is a device used to visualise the vagina, gives the doctor a better view of the cervical area. The doctor will then swab your cervix with a soft brush to collect cells from the cervix. The sample is sent to the lab to look for any abnormal cells under a microscope. Whatever the results of the test, your doctor will contact you within a few weeks to let you know the results.
WHO SHOULD HAVE A PAP SMEAR DONE?
In general, most doctors recommend that all sexually active women that are older than 21 start having pap smears done regularly. However, speak to your OBGYN about what’s best for you. If you’re unsure about whether you need to have one, then be sure to talk to your doctor.