Did you know that almost all cervical cancer is preventable?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012 about 4,000 women died of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States.
However, nowadays, many precautionary measures can be taken to prevent and diagnose cervical cancer early on, such as HPV vaccines or getting a routine Pap test. A Papanicolaou test, also known as Pap smear, is a procedure where cells are collected from a woman’s cervix.
The cells are then evaluated for abnormalities under a microscope, specifically pre-cancerous and cancerous conditions within the cells.
According to WedMD, “[Pap smears] are the best tool to detect precancerous conditions and hidden, small tumors that may lead to cervical cancer.”
Women are recommended to start Pap screen testing at 21 or three years after first becoming sexually active. Routine screenings are recommended every three years for women 21-65 years of age. For women over age 30 with both normal Pap testing results and a negative HPV test, tests can be done every five years.
Pap smears are not painful, but they can cause slight discomfort, similar to menstrual cramps, and spotting. Pap smears are done during pelvic exams.
The doctor will have you lie on a table with your feet in stirrups and then use an instrument called a speculum to open the vagina and allow the doctor to see inside the vagina and the cervix.
A plastic spatula and small brush are used to scrape cells from the cervix. These cells are then placed into a solution and sent to a lab for testing.
To help prepare for a Pap smear, avoid having intercourse, douching or using any vaginal medicines or spermicidal foams, creams or jellies for two days before the test. These could potentially wash away abnormal cells. Although the test can still be performed, you should also try to avoid scheduling a Pap smear during your menstrual period.
Also, be prepared to answer questions about your last menstrual period, whether you use birth control and what kind it is, any medications you might use and if you are pregnant, among other basic screening questions.
For any further questions, please discuss Pap smears with your doctor. Pacific’s Cowell Wellness Center also offers routine gynecologic exams with Pap tests by appointment.
Students who are enrolled in the Student Health Insurance plan or with a Preferred Provider Organization can receive one annual Pap smear as a covered benefit. You can learn more about these benefits and Pap testing by contacting the Cowell Wellness Center at (209) 946-2315.
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