To begin with, let’s understand what a pap smear is and how it is done. A Pap smear, or a Pap test, is a screening tool used to detect abnormal or cancerous cells in the cervix (opening of the uterus). For the procedure, a small brush or spatula is used to gently scrape the cells of the cervix. The cells are then examined under a microscope for abnormalities. The procedure is performed by a doctor and can be slightly uncomfortable. However, it does not lead to any long-term pain.
What are the criteria to qualify for a pap smear? Who should get one done? Here are some answers:
A positive pap smear result indicates the presence of abnormal cells in the cervix. Although this can be worrying, a positive pap smear result does not always mean you have cervical cancer. It can be an indication of inflammation, herpes, trichomoniasis, recent sexual activity or human papillomavirus (HPV). A positive result is a nod for further diagnostic testing.
There are four major indications of abnormal pap smear results.
An abnormal pap smear result could be an indication of HPV, a common sexually transmitted disease (STD). HPV usually does not show any signs or symptoms, but it affects both men and women equally. Therefore, it is necessary for you to talk to your partner if you are diagnosed with HPV. That said, in most cases, HPV clears by itself and does not cause any other health issues. In some cases, it can lead to cervical cancer.
Trichomoniasis is a common STD among women aged between 16 and 35 years. Symptoms include foul vaginal odour, vaginal discharge and itching. Generally, trichomoniasis can be treated with antibiotics.
The primary causes of cervical cancer are HPV 16 and HPV 18. The early stage symptoms of cervical cancer are few, but these symptoms are capable of accelerating as they advance. Routine pap smears can help identify the onset of cervical cancer and enable early treatment.
Cervical dysplasia is not cervical cancer. The condition pertains to an abnormal change in cells on the surface of the cervix, which, if left untreated, can lead to cervical cancer. In cases of mild cervical dysplasia, the doctor may recommend regular monitoring to observe for developments. For advanced cervical dysplasia, cell removal may be advised.
If abnormal cells persist, a biopsy can help determine the type of abnormality in the cervix. Further treatments may be recommended accordingly.
In this examination, the cervix is brushed with vinegar to highlight the affected area. As soon as the abnormal area is located, a biopsy is taken by the doctor for further examination.
Cryosurgery is the freezing of abnormal cells. In this procedure, a triangle of cervical tissue holding abnormal cells is removed. It is common for patients to experience watery discharge or even bleeding after the procedure.
In a LEEP, a small electrical loop-shaped instrument is used to remove abnormal cells from the cervix. Patients may experience some bleeding and discharge after the procedure.