Cervical cancer is one of the top five cancer risks affecting women globally and a leading cause of cancer-related death. And the main factor to consider is that it can be prevented by regular check-ups and identifying the risk factors in an individual early, because timely detection can increase the chances of being cured from the disease.
One such method to check for any risks and early detection of cervical cancer is to undergo a Pap smear. This test, which is also termed as cervical smear or as Pap test, checks for the presence (or subsequent absence of) abnormal cells in the cervix of a woman. Apart from being used to detect cancer of the cervix, this test also helps detect inflammation as well as infection of the vagina.
Guidelines regarding when to take the Pap smear test and associated age criteria
There is often a question among women regarding the time for a Pap smear. Age is also a concern. It usually depends on the risk factors, however the basic guidelines are as follows:
- Those who are 21 years and under and are not sexually active or known to have any risks do not have to undergo a Pap smear
- Those who are under 21 years of age but are sexually active need to have a Pap smear done every 3 years
- Those between 21 and 29 years of age also need to go for a test every 3 years
- Those women in the age bracket of 30 to 65 years old need to have a Pap smear done every 3 years and can later even increase the time gap to every 5 years if their routine test is negative and they also test negative for HPV. Another testing recommended for this age group is for HPV, which combined with Pap smear is termed as co-testing, and can be done together every 5 years
- Those over 65 years old might not need a Pap smear once they have consulted their physician and ruled out all risk factors
A point to remember is that no one needs to undergo yearly screening for any of the 2 mentioned screening tests unless the previous screening results show abnormality, in which case a repeat screening might be recommended in 6 months or within a year.
Those who have had a hysterectomy also do not need to undergo a Pap smear.
Things to keep in mind while preparing for a Pap test
A Pap smear is at the most a little uncomfortable but is not painful. However, for accurate results a few things need to be considered, such as:
- Not having sex at least 48 hours prior to the test
- Avoid using tampons prior to the test
- Avoid douching for 2 days prior to the Pap smear
- Do not use vaginal medications, lubricants, powders, or vaginal sprays 48 hours prior to the test
All these things might affect the tests and avoiding them will provide accurate results.
Pap smears can help with early detection of cervical cancer and aid in timely treatment and cure and are thus recommended.