Cancer is worse than a Pap smear

13 Aug 1919

Let’s cross one of those setbacks off the To Do List: the Pap smear. 

Do I really need a Pap smear? 

Up to 80% of women diagnosed with invasive cancer of the cervix have not had a Pap smear in the past 5 years. And women may have cervical cancer without even knowing it. So, if you’re between the ages of 21 and 65, YES – you do need a Pap smear. Especially if you are, or who have ever been, sexually active. 

When last did you have a Pap smear? 

Cancer of the cervix is largely preventable, thanks to the Pap smear which detects cancerous or even pre-cancerous changes to the cervical cells. It’s often combined with a test for human papillomavirus (HPV) – a common, sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer. 

The good news? You don’t need to go to the gynaecologist. Your GP can perform a Pap smear, ideally once every 3 years. Sometimes more regular screening is advisable, one reason being if you’re HIV positive. Your GP can advise you on your requirements. 

What should I expect? 

We won’t lie to you: you’ll be asked to lie on an examination table, bend your knees and allow your doctor to insert a small instrument known as a speculum into the vagina. This enables your doctor to collect a sample of cervical cells. The Pap smear can be a little uncomfortable but, fortunately, only takes a few seconds to do. 

Do I need to prepare for a Pap smear? 

Make an appointment for a Pap smear at least 5 days after you finish menstruating. For 24 hours before the procedure, do not have sex and do not use tampons, douches or spermicidal products. You should let your doctor know if you’re pregnant – although you can still safely have a Pap smear; it doesn’t pose a threat to you or your baby. 

What about the results? 

If a high-risk virus is detected along with atypical cervical cells, your GP will speak to you about further testing. This testing aims to facilitate an accurate diagnosis so as to direct the appropriate treatment approach. 

While going for a Pap smear isn’t exactly something to look forward to, there are worse things – like not knowing if you have, or are developing, cervical cancer. So make an appointment with your doctor, then you can move on to the next items on your list: doing Taekwondo, researching radioactivity, fighting fire or any of the other countless pursuits we women are known for.

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