It's very important for a woman who has become sexually active to have a Pap Smear done every second year, either at your family doctor, clinic or gynaecologist. A woman who is not sexually active does not need to have Pap Smear done. A Pap Smear may sound a little daunting, but it's a very good way to make sure that you have no damage to your cervix - either from having sex, getting infections or using contraceptives. It only takes a few minutes and it could help save your life!
WHAT IS A PAP SMEAR?
A Pap smear or Pap test (short for Papanicolaou test) examines cells taken from the cervix (mouth of the womb) under a microscope. These cells are scraped from the cervix using a special brush that's inserted through the vagina. Abnormal cells can become cancerous (malignant), so it is important to be checked regularly if you are having sex.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
A Pap Smear checks for the early warning signs of cervical cancer. Tests for other sexually transmitted infections are taken at the same time by testing vaginal mucous. Your health-care professional will also check your overall health and ask questions about your life-style at this visit.
HOW IS A PAP SMEAR DONE?
A Pap Smear may be a bit uncomfortable, but it doesn't hurt. An instrument called a speculum gets inserted into the vagina to see the cervix.
Then, a small brush collects a few cells from the surface of the cervix, and these cells are placed on a glass slide and sent to the laboratory. After a week or two, your doctor/clinic will contact you with the results.
While you're there, you might as well put your mind at ease and do the other examinations like:
- Blood tests for other STD's
- Breast examination for lumps
WHO DOES IT?
All gynaecologists and most general practitioners (GPs) and clinics do Pap Smears. You may feel more comfortable with a female doctor, and that's perfectly fine, too!
WHEN SHOULD I HAVE ONE?
If you are sexually active, you should always insist on using a condom. You should have your first Pap Smear done a year after you have started having sex - but sooner if you have symptoms of a STD. Symptoms include a vaginal discharge, sores and painful intercourse. Some STD's e.g. HIV only exhibit as flu-like symptoms!
WHY ARE PAP SMEARS IMPORTANT?
Cervical cancer is one of the top ten most common cancers amongst South African women. The good news is that it's also one of the most preventable and curable. Early diagnosis is important, so make sure you keep your body at its best by having your regular check-ups.