What is a PAP test?
A PAP test is a screening test for detecting cancer of cervix. Regular PAP test will detect the cancer early and help in treating the cancer more effectively.
How is a PAP test done?
The test is done by a doctor or nurse in a doctor’s office, clinic or hospital. It is not painful, but can sometimes cause mild discomfort.
There are two types of PAP tests: a PAP smear and a liquid PAp test.
PAP smear: During this test, the cervix is scraped with a wooden spatula or swab. The specimen obtained is spread onto a glass slide and sent to a laboratory to look for abnormal cells under a microscope.
Liquid PAP test: During this test, the cervix is scraped with a brush. This brush, containing the scraped cells from the cervix, is then put in a small container containing a liquid, and sent to a laboratory to check for abnormal cells.
The following should be adhered to when scheduling a PAP test:
- Women should not have PAP test during menstruation.
- The best time to do this test is between 10 to 20 days from the first day of a woman’s period.
- For about two days before the test, women should not use any vaginal creams, vaginal medicines, douching or spermicidal foams.
What happens during a PAP test?
- The woman lies on her back on the examination table. The doctor or nurse examines the outside of the genital area first.
- The doctor or nurse then places an instrument called a ‘speculum’ into the vagina, which makes it easy to view the inside of the vagina and cervix.
- The cervix is then scraped with either a wooden spatula or brush, depending on the method used. The scraped sample is either smeared on a glass slide or placed in a small container and sent to a laboratory.
- The doctor or nurse then does a pelvic examination by putting two fingers of one hand into the vagina and the other hand on the abdomen to feel for the uterus, ovaries and other structures around the uterus.
- The results of the Pap smear will be available in 1-2 weeks. The patient may need to see doctor or nurse to discuss the results.
What is the recommendation for a PAP test?
In the US, the Centre for Disease Control recommends PAP screening for women from the age of 21 to 65 years. In the UK, the NHS Cervical Screening Programme invites all women between the ages of 25 and 64 to receive cervical screening.
The recommendations for cervical cancer screening in Australia are as follows:
- PAP smears should be done every two years.
- Cervical screening should start from the beginning of sexual activity, and can end at age 70.
- Screening usually begins at 18 to 20 years, or one to two years after first having sexual intercourse.
- For any abnormal PAP smear, the doctor will advise the woman accordingly.
- The woman may be required to repeat the smear in three, six or twelve months, or undergo a colposcopy (camera test to check vagina and cervix) or colposcopic biopsy.
- Women who are 70 years or older can stop having PAP smears if the two smears done within the last five years were normal.
- Women who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) may choose to stop having PAP tests, unless the surgery was done for the treatment of cancer or a pre-cancer condition of the cervix.
- Women who have had a hysterectomy without the removal of the cervix should continue to have PAP tests.
- PAP smears are done in general practitioners’ surgeries, family planning clinics, sexual health clinics, antenatal clinics and Well Women’s clinics.
Please do not put off doing a PAP test. Book your appointment today.
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