Pap Smears – An Uncomfortable Life Saver!
Most women dread getting a pap smear. It’s an awkward and uncomfortable procedure. But did you know that a pap smear can save your life? Find out why pap smears are important and how they can detect early signs of cancer.
What Is a Pap Smear?
A pap smear is a test that screens for cervical cancer. A healthcare provider will collect cells from your cervix (the opening to the uterus) using a small brush. The cells are then sent to a laboratory to be examined for any abnormal changes.
Testing for HPV can be done at the same time as a pap smear. HPV stands for human papillomavirus, which is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer. Remember, though, that HPV is not the only cause of cervical cancer. So even if you’re not sexually active, if you are over the age of 21, you should start cervical cancer screening.
Symptoms Requiring a Pap Smear
There are usually no symptoms of early cervical cancer, which is why screenings like pap smears are so important. Your doctor may recommend a pap smear if you have one of the following:
- Abnormal bleeding from the vagina, such as between periods or after sex
- Pelvic pain when urinating or during intercourse
- Unusual discharge from the vagina
- Unusual odor
- Swelling, blisters, or sores
How To Prep for a Test
You don’t need to do anything special to prepare, but there are a few things you should avoid doing. Do not have sex 24 hours before the test. Don’t douche or use tampons or vaginal medicines before the test.
Make sure to tell your doctor if you have experienced the following:
- If it is your first test
- If you are taking birth control
- If you are pregnant
- If you have had abnormal test results before
How Pap Smears Save Lives
Pap smears save lives by detecting early signs of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of death for American women.
When caught early, cervical cancer is highly treatable. Treatments for early-stage cervical cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The earlier cancer is caught, the better the chances are for survival. In fact, the death rate from cervical cancer has declined by more than 50% in the last 40 years.
How Often Should You Get a Pap Smear?
The American Cancer Society recommends that women get a pap smear every three years if they are 21 years old or older. If you are 30 years or older, you may only need to be tested every five years. Talk to your healthcare provider about how often you should get a pap smear based on your individual risk factors.
Don’t Put It Off
If you’re due for a pap smear, don’t put it off. Cervical cancer is preventable; the earlier it’s caught, the better. Remind your mom, sister, and friends to get their pap smears too. It could save a life.