Pap smears are one of the best medical technologies we have. Cancer can come in all different forms, shapes and sizes. And for most types of cancer, determining which tests to use, to accurately detect it, is half the battle.
Not so for cervical cancer.
Fortunately, thanks to pap smears, it’s relatively easy to detect cervical cancer before it does any significant damage. Although guidelines may soon change, as of now, pap smears are one of the best cancer prevention tools women have.
Sadly, many women in Newcastle don’t truly understand how often they need them. Some have them too often, others not nearly often enough.
The goal of today’s article is to show you 10 important details about pap smears that you probably didn’t know. By the end of this article, you will have much better insight on how they work, and what the best schedule is for you.
- Pap Smears Don’t Need To Be Done Yearly
It’s a good idea to get regular pap smears, but exactly how regularly should they be? The answer is, about once every two years.
Cervical cancer is, fortunately, a very slowly developing form of cancer. So if you get a Pap smear result back that shows no irregularities, the odds of you developing cervical cancer within the next two years is incredibly low. It’s also good news if you get back a seemingly negative result… even if there are some irregularities, it will likely take years before they become serious.
So although you don’t need a pap smear done every year, you do need it done every two years.
- Pap Smears Are Different Based On Age
Nowadays, pap smears are only done on women ages 21 and older and the results they show will also vary considerably based on age.
Women used to be tested once they started engaging in sexual activities. However, done too soon, pap smears will reveal many irregularities that relate to a developing body.
At the age of 21, there’s much more stability, so irregularities that are found can actually lead to serious problems.
Younger girls (ages 21-30) will also have different screening procedures. For example, if HPV (human papillomavirus) is revealed in a woman 21-30, it’s usually not a sign for concern. This is because many girls catch the virus at this age, and the immune system will eliminate it within 8 months.
However, after the age of 30, discovering HPV is more concerning, and a risk factor for cervical cancer.
Lastly, women who have had hysterectomies or are over the age of 70 should not get a pap smear at all.
- There Is NO Value In Getting Too Frequent Pap Smears
The Internet is awesome; no doubt about it, but it’s also led to a lot of worries. If you have some symptoms and Google them, before you know it, you might think you have cancer.
More and more women are asking for more regular pap smears. Usually this is to relax worries and fears. However, it can often have the opposite effect.
Because you only need pap smears done once every two years, if you get them too regularly you will see very little changes or any illuminating results. This may cause you to worry even more about a problem, which likely does not exist.
Stick to the schedule of once every two years. You WILL detect cancer early enough if it exists.
- HPV’s Presence Is Generally Normal
It can be scary to learn you have HPV… a sexually transmitted disease. But if you’re sexually active at all, even with a small amount of partners, you’ll likely catch it.
The good news is your immune system will likely eliminate it on its own. The bad news is if you see HPV show up in your results, and you’re over the age of 30, it could be something you need to monitor very closely. Only your doctor will know for sure though, so consult with them if you see this show up.
- Sometimes You Need To Ask For A Pap Smear
When you go to your GP, do they do a pap smear? Maybe, maybe not. Believe it or not, it’s not a routine procedure in every office. Just because you’ve had an examination doesn’t mean you’ve had a pap smear.
So every two years, be sure to specifically ask for one even if your GP or our office is keeping track of them.
- Pap Smears Are VITAL Tests
In this article I’ve said you don’t need to get pap smears all the time, but I am not in any way casual about them. In fact, I believe they’re one of the most important medical inventions of all time.
Cervical cancer will rarely show any symptoms. Yes, it takes years to develop, but if you never get a pap smear, you will never know!
This is also highly frustrating, because in many cases people develop cervical cancer when it could’ve easily been prevented. Because it takes so long to fully form, there are a million opportunities to fight it. But without the screening, you’ll never know!
- There Are Ideal Times To Get A Pap Smear
Some times are better than others for getting a pap smear. You should wait at least 5 days after your period is over. And, if you’ve had any infection in the vagina, it should be treated and eliminated.
- DON’T Do These Things Before A Pap Smear
When you get a test like a pap smear, you want it to be as accurate as possible. Don’t do these things before your pap smear:
- Have unprotected sex
- Use tampons
- Use vaginal lubrication
- Insert creams, suppositories or medication into the vagina
- Use vaginal sprays or powders
- Even If Your Family Doesn’t Have A History Of Cervical Cancer, You Need To Be Tested
Many cancers seem to have genetic causes, however, even if no one in your family has had cervical cancer, it doesn’t mean you can’t get it.
So it’s very important you get pap smears every two years. If any cancer is discovered, it CAN be treated and likely eliminated.
- Pap Smears Do NOT Test For STD’s
You might think that because you’ve had a pap smear, you’ve been tested for other STI’s. That’s not true. Pap smears look for cell changes in the cervix. Pap smears can detect HPV because it alters the cells in the cervix.
However, other STI’s don’t. So you need to get both pap smears AND STI tests to make sure you’re good on all ends.
If you still have questions about Pap smear, speak to us at Hunter Women’s. Dr John Bailey, your local Newcastle gynaecologist, is happy to provide advice that is tailored to your individual situation.