WHAT IS A PAP SMEAR TEST ?
Those dreaded words “Pap Smear” can conjure up the most awkward, embarrassing and uncomfortable scenarios in your head, can’t they ! When in reality it is just something else we girls have to be mindful of in terms of looking after our health. The Pap Smear test checks for changes in cells of the cervix , which if left untreated may lead to cervical cancer. So even though Pap Smears are not 100% accurate, they are important because they are currently the best option to screen for and prevent cervical cancer in the very early stages – and that has to be a good thing. Medical and Women’s health organisations recommend a pap smear every two years from age 18. (www.cancerscreening.gov.au)
WHAT CAUSES CERVICAL CANCER ?
Cervical cancer is thought to often be related to infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common viral infection, affecting at least 75 per cent of sexually active adults at some time in their life. In Australia, teenage girls are given a vaccination for HPV but it does not protect against all the types that can cause cervical cancers, so we still have to undergo Pap Smears regularly.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A PAP SMEAR TEST EXAMINATION AND PROCEDURE ? WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE ?
The procedure is done by a doctor or nurse specifically trained in performing pap smears. Make sure you ask them if you want to know something, or tell them if you are feeling anxious or awkward about the whole thing at any time before, during or after the procedure. You can always have someone with you for the procedure if you want.
You will be asked to take off your clothes from waist down and to lie on the examination table with a sheet over you. You will usually be asked to draw up your knees, place your heels together and then relax your knees outward (though some doctors prefer a slightly different position). TRY to relax a this point as it will make the experience more comfortable if your muscles aren’t tense. At this stage some women prefer to play on their phone etc to distract them from what is going on so they can relax and get it over with as soon as possible (probably talking on the phone through it is probably a little bit tacky or bad manners).
The doctor or nurse will have gloves on and they will gently part the labia and have a look at the area around the vagina for anything unusual. The doctor will insert the speculum (this crazily-larger-than-you-would-think instrument – google speculum to see a picture) to open the vaginal walls so the cervix can be seen clearly. It doesn’t hurt at all – at most some people feel a little discomfort or at may feel a little cold. Let your doctor or nurse know if you do feel any pain. You may get asked may be asked to lift your bottom a little by putting your hands under your hips, so the doctor can get a better view. The doctor then uses a thin spatula placed inside the speculum to collect cells. At most you will feel a little pressure, but most don’t notice this part of the procedure at all.
The doctor will leave the speculum in place while they put the spatula and/or swab of cells into a container to go off to pathology for analysis. Then they will gently close and remove the speculum. The doctor may also conduct an internal pelvic examination at this stage. They will place one hand flat on your lower tummy and then insert, using lubricant, two gloved and fingers gently into your vagina to feel if your uterus and ovaries are the right size and shape. This part is a bit uncomfortable but shouldn’t hurt. And then it is all over.
The doctor will give you some tissues to wipe away any lubricant or fluids. Some women might experience some spotting afterwards.You will be told to get dressed, you can regain your dignity and you can feel relieved it’s over, but proud of yourself for facing the awkward stuff to look after your health. Could you really imagine a guy having to go through ALL the stuff we have to endure ?
The doctor will talk to you about it, but in Australia we don’t hear anything at all if everything is fine. We usually get a reminder from our doctor and the Pap Smear Registry in 2 years time reminding us our next test is due and to make an appointment.
Love and light,