For 2017, the American Cancer Society predicted that 12,820 women in the U.S. would be diagnosed with cervical cancer. Like any other form of cancer, it’s important to be vigilant in protecting yourself from cervical cancer by undergoing regular testing. Pap smear exams are a regular part of gynecological health, and aid women in identifying early signs of cervical cancer. Contacting your Long Island gynecologist for a pap smear exam is the first step in taking an active stand against cervical cancer. In this post, we’ll discuss why pap smear exams are important, how they are performed, and how they can lead to effective treatment.
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
The leading cause of cervical cancer is a sexually transmitted virus called HPV, or human papillomavirus. While some strains of HPV cause genital warts, other strains can cause cervical cancer. This virus can also lie dormant for several years before taking effect. Because of this, the best way to stay vigilant against cervical cancer is through regular pap smear tests.
4 Common Cervical Cancer Symptoms
Unfortunately, most cervical cancer symptoms do not manifest themselves until abnormal cells have become cancer cells. The following symptoms are common for patients with cervical cancer.
- Vaginal bleeding during irregular intervals, such as between periods, after sex, or after menopause
- Pain during sex
- Pain in the pelvis or lower belly area
- Vaginal discharge in an irregular color, especially brown
If you begin to experience any of these symptoms, you should contact your Long Island gynecologist to schedule an appointment immediately.
Testing for Cervical Cancer: The Pap Process
To perform the pap smear exam, the gynecologist instructs women to lie on their backs on an examination table with their legs spread. Then, the gynecologist will slowly insert a speculum into the vagina, a device that keeps the vaginal walls open and provides cervical access. After the doctor has access to the cervix, he or she will scrape a small sample of cells using a tool called a spatula, or a slight variation.
Very slight vaginal bleeding, cramping, or mild discomfort are normal after this exam. Women who experience more intense feelings than this should consult their gynecologist. The pain following a pap smear exam should not be as intense as PMS.
After the exam, the sample will be sent to the lab for testing.
Pap Smear FAQs
Q: How do I Prepare for a Pap Smear?
There are a few conditions that must be met for the pap smear exam to be accurate, as your Long Island gynecologist will likely explain to you. Before the day of the exam, avoid douching, spermicidal products, and sexual intercourse, as these can all affect the accuracy of the testing.
Menstrual bleeding might also affect the results of the pap smear exam, so we recommend that women who are menstruating on the day of their exam reschedule.
Finally, a calm attitude and a collected mind are imperative for a stress-free and successful pap smear exam.
Pap smear exams are covered under the standard plan for most insurance providers.
Q: What do Pap Smear Results Mean?
The results of the pap smear exam are generally accurate in indicating the presence of cervical cancer cells.
Even though the results may always seem straightforward, that is not always the case. Your Long Island gynecologist can help you to interpret these results.
Negative results indicate that no further action is needed. Your cervical cells are normal, and do not at all indicate the presence of cervical cancer.
Positive results indicate that your cervical cells are, to some degree, abnormal. This can, however, vary by degree. Cervical cells that are only slightly abnormal pose less of a threat than highly abnormal cells, which may be precancerous. In most cases, gynecologists who detect the presence of abnormal cells will recommend more frequent pap smear exams.
Q: How Often Should I Get a Pap Test?
Generally, women should receive pap smear exams every 3 years, or for middle-aged women who normally have good results, every 3-5 years.
Women who meet the following criteria should seek more frequent (yearly) testing:
- HIV positive
- Weakened immune system due to chemotherapy
- Organ transplant recipient
- Heavy Steroid use
Q: Should Women Who Are Not Sexually Active (or in a monogamous relationship) Receive Pap Test?
In short, yes.
HPV is a sexually transmitted, so women who are not sexually active will not develop cervical cancer from HPV. There are, however, other causes of cervical cancer. Additionally, while women who are in long-standing monogamous relationships will not likely contract HPV from their partner for the first time, it might be dormant within their bodies. In some cases, symptoms of HPV might not manifest themselves for several years. For these reasons, receiving regular HPV tests from your Long Island gynecologist is essential.