The Pap smear was named for the researcher who developed it, George Nicholas Papanicolaou. Since the Pap smear entered gynecological practice in 1943, it’s saved millions of women’s lives. This year, one of those lives saved could be yours.
Considering how simple, fast, and effective the test is, there’s no reason to delay a Pap smear if it’s time to get one. Nevertheless, each year in the United States, about 4,000 women die from cervical cancer because they didn’t get a Pap smear in time to identify and cure their disease.
January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and the ideal time to get up to date on your cervical health. In addition to getting a Pap smear, you might also undergo testing for human papillomavirus (HPV), the organism that causes most causes of cervical cancer. Depending on your age, you might also benefit from an HPV vaccine.
At Enrich Family Practice, our expert nurse practitioners offer Pap smears as part of your well-woman exam. If you’re over 21, have had sex, and are due for a Pap smear, we recommend performing it to be sure that you’re healthy and cancer-free.
Why are Pap smears so important, and what happens if this fast test identifies troubling cervical changes? The answers are below.
Cervical cancer grows slowly
One of the reasons a Pap smear is such a crucial step is that cervical cancer is that it’s a very slow-growing cancer. If we detect abnormalities in your cervical cells after a Pap smear, the cancer probably hasn’t progressed far.
Usually, we can treat and eliminate cervical cancers we find during Pap smears. Before Pap smears, about 24-37 out of every 100,000 women died from cervical cancer. However, by 2008, thanks to the widespread use of Pap smears, only 7.5 out of every 100,000 women died from cervical cancer. That rate could fall even lower if more women had regular Pap smears.
An abnormal Pap doesn’t mean you have cancer
Even if your Pap test comes back “positive,” (i.e., abnormal cells were found), that doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. Older women, especially, may have cell abnormalities that resolve on their own within a year or two.
The first step after an abnormal test is to re-test or investigate further. If we hadn’t already given you an HPV test, we might administer one after a positive Pap. We may also give you another Pap smear or conduct an investigation called colposcopy, which allows us to take a closer look at the cells on your cervix.
Pap smears are fast
A Pap smear test takes only minutes. You lie back on the examination table with your feet in the stirrups. We insert a speculum in your vagina, which opens the cervix. The cervix is the opening of your uterus at the end of your vagina. You feel a slight pinching as we enlarge your cervix.
We then insert a swab and take a sample of the cells in and around your cervix. You may also feel a few seconds of discomfort during the swabbing. We place the cells on a plate and send them to a lab for evaluation.
Then you’re done. We let you know your test results as soon as we get them. If the test is negative, we schedule you for your next test in 3-5 years, depending on your age. If the test is positive, we schedule you for further investigation.
Would you spend five minutes to save your life? Book a Pap smear today so you can stay safe and cancer-free. Call us today for an appointment at 432-200-9052 or use our online form.