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What are pap smear and colposcopy tests?

December 3, 2020

Cervical cancer is one that arises from the cervix and is one of the most common and frequently diagnosed cancers. Pap smear and colposcopy are tests that examine the vagina and help in screening patients for precancerous or cancerous cells.

What is a Pap Smear test?

A Pap smear or Pap test is a screening for cervical cancer where cells are scraped from the cervix and examined to check for any abnormal growth. The test checks for precancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix and it is recommended that women get one done at least once in 3 years especially between 21 to 65 years of age. Women who are sexually active must consider getting the test done regularly as it also checks of HPV-  Human Papillomavirus.

Pap test procedure

It is a quick and mildly uncomfortable procedure where the doctor inserts a device called a speculum into the vagina. This device provides access to your cervix by keeping the vaginal walls open. Then, the sample of cells is scraped from the cervix using a spatula, brush or both. One may feel slight irritation during the scraping. It is normal for a woman to feel slight discomfort, mild cramping or light vaginal bleeding immediately after the procedure. However, if you are experiencing discomfort or bleeding after the day of the test, it is highly recommended that you consult with your gynecologist.

Test results

The results from the pap smear could either be normal or abnormal. If it's normal, then all is well and no abnormal cells we detected from the sample. However, if the tests results are abnormal, it does not mean you have cancer. It just means that abnormal cells were detected, some of which may be precancerous. Depending on what your results show, your doctor may recommend you increase the frequency of your pap tests or may require you to undergo a colposcopy to examine your cervical tissues closely. Pap tests are very accurate and getting them done regularly, reduce your chances of cervical cancer and succumbing to it by about 80%.

What is a Colposcopy examination?

A colposcopy test is usually performed if the Pap tests results are abnormal. In this test, a device called colposcope is used to get a closer look are the cervix, vagina, and vulva for examination. This device is an electronic microscope that enables the doctor to get a clearer view with the help of its bright light and magnification.

Colposcopy procedure

Similar to the Pap test, a speculum is used to open up the vaginal walls and the colposcope is placed a few inches away from your vulva. The device does not touch you but only allows the doctor to get a clearer view and allows him to take photographs or perform a biopsy in suspicious areas. If a biopsy is performed, a special solution called Monel's solution is applied to control the bleeding. It is normal for women to have dark vaginal discharge and bleeding for a week after the procedure. Cramping and soreness are also common.

Test results

The results help in detecting the presence of abnormal, precancerous and cancerous cells or other treatable conditions. Depending on the results of your colposcopy and biopsy, the doctor will recommend the appropriate treatment. Consulting regular and scheduling yearly appointments with your gynecology specialist is always recommended as it helps in ensuring that you are healthy and in early detection in case of abnormalities, maximizing results of treatments.

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