Why should I have a Pap smear?
Pap smears have been one of the major success stories of cancer prevention; it is very effective at reducing the number of cervical cancers diagnosed and deaths from the disease.
A Pap smear can detect changes in the cells of the cervix. Sometimes these changes may lead to cervical cancer later on, so by finding them early they can be treated before any cancerous changes of the cervix develop.
Like many tests, the Pap smear is not 100 per cent accurate. However regular Pap smears every two years can help prevent up to 90% of the most common type of cervical cancer.
The pap test does not detect cancer of the ovary or other cancers in the reproductive system.
How is a Pap smear performed?
The pap smear is a simple procedure that can be performed by your doctor or specially trained nurse. An instrument called a speculum is inserted into your vagina, allowing your cervix to be clearly seen. A small soft brush is then used to collect a cell sample that is sent to the laboratory for analysis. You may experience a brief minor amount of discomfort during the test. You should receive the results in one week.
Because the presence of blood can make the interpretation of the test more difficult the test not be performed while menstruating.
What if I receive an abnormal smear result?
If your test does have an abnormal result, try not to worry – at least one in every 10 test results may have a notation or comment of some type. There are many reasons why this might happen and most are not serious, so ask your GP for an explanation and discuss any concerns you may have with them. If abnormal cells are noted in the smear you may need to come back for another pap smear earlier than usual or you may be referred for further testing and treatment.
Who should have a Pap smear?
As a general guideline, you should have an initial smear test within 2 years of becoming sexually active. Even if you have had the cervical cancer vaccine, you still need to have Pap smear tests. Subsequent smear tests should be performed every two years even if you are no longer having sex – the risk of cervical cancer increases with age.
You should continue having these tests through menopause until the age of 70, when your doctor may advise that continued testing is no longer required.
If you have had a total hysterectomy, routine Pap tests may no longer be necessary, but it is important that you check with your doctor before discontinuing them.
Who needs more frequent testing?
If you are judged to be at higher risk for cervical cancer your doctor may decide you should have more frequent testing. You are at higher risk if:
- You have a history of abnormal Pap tests
- Your immune system is weakened through HIV or if you are an organ transplant patient
- You smoke heavily.
- You began sexual activity at an early age, especially if you had multiple sexual partners
- You have had a male sexual partner who has had multiple sexual partners
I have heard the pap screen program may be changing – what does this mean?
There are plans to implement a new Cervical Cancer Screening Program in May 2017. This will involve checking for the presence human papilloma virus types that are associated with cancer of the cervix rather than checking the cervical cells. There will also be changes to the age at which we start testing women and also to the interval between performing these tests.
Women will probably notice no difference in the procedure itself which will still require a vaginal speculum examination.
A more detailed description of the proposed changes to cervical cancer screening is available from the National Cervical Screening Program website.
Where do I go for a Pap smear?
All SmartClinic practices offer Pap tests to patients with the cost of collecting the pap smear included as part of the normal consultation,
Pap smear registers are now in operation in each state and territory. These registers are part of Australia’s National Cervical Screening Program. When you have a Pap smear, you will automatically go on to this register for reminders and follow-up, if necessary. It is important that you advise us of any change of address and other contact details.