What To Expect At Your First PAP Smear Test?
Cervical cancer poses a significant health concern for women worldwide, and Singapore is no exception. It ranks as the 10th most common cancer among women in the country. Fortunately, with the advent of regular cervical smear tests, the early detection of precancerous stages caused by high-risk HPV infections has become both reliable and affordable.
What Is A PAP Smear And Why Is It So Important?
A Pap smear, also known as a Pap test or cervical smear, is a routine gynaecological screening designed to detect abnormalities in the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus.
The primary purpose of a Pap smear is to identify precancerous or cancerous cells early on, allowing for timely intervention and prevention of cervical cancer. This proactive approach, especially when combined with HPV co-testing, provides a comprehensive understanding of one’s cervical health, which can ultimately save lives.
What Is The Human Papilloma Virus?
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of related viruses that infect human skin and the moist membranes lining the body, such as the cervix, anus, mouth, and throat, and it is the main culprit for cervical cancer, as well as other diseases such as:
- Genital Warts
- Vaginal Cancer
- Anal Cancer
- Penile Cancer
There are more than 200 known types of HPV, categorised into low-risk and high-risk types. Typically, the occurrence of cervical cancer is linked to 2 specific types: HPV-16 and HPV-18, both categorised as high-risk HPV.
HPV has the potential to impact women who have engaged in sexual activity. Nevertheless, a significant number of women who contract HPV can naturally resolve the infection within two years. Individuals with persistent infections, however, are more likely to face an elevated risk of developing cervical abnormalities, potentially progressing to cervical cancer over time.
How Is A PAP Smear Done?
The PAP smear procedure is relatively straightforward, and it takes only a few minutes! If you are due for your first cervical smear, and are wondering what to expect, this is a quick rundown of what the test would entail. Understanding the procedure can help to alleviate your concerns.
PREPARATION: You will be asked to lie on the examination bed with your knees bent up and feet apart on the stirrups attached to the bed.
SPECULUM INSERTION: Your healthcare provider will gently insert a speculum into your vaginal canal. This medical instrument aids in both accessibility and visibility of the cervix.
CELL COLLECTION: Using a specialised brush (that looks like a mini broom), your doctor will carefully collect cells from the narrow neck of the cervix and send them to the laboratory for testing. This crucial step is the essence of the cervical smear test, aiming to identify any abnormal cell growth.
While some women may experience mild discomfort during the procedure, it should not be excruciatingly painful. Take a deep breath and consciously relax to significantly enhance your comfort throughout the process.
How Often Should You Go For A PAP Smear?
Singapore’s national cervical screening program encourages all sexually active women to undergo regular screenings from the age of 25 onwards. Women between 25 and 29 years old should get a PAP test once every 3 years, while women who are 30 years and above should go for their HPV test once every 5 years. However, if you have NEVER been sexually active in your life, then you DO NOT require a PAP smear.
Your first pap smear may seem daunting, but it’s a crucial step in the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer, ultimately safeguarding your well-being. Always feel free to communicate with your healthcare provider about any concerns or questions you may have.