What is a Pap Smear? The importance of having a regular pap smear (at least every 3 – 5 years) cannot be stressed enough. Cervical cancer is the most common form of genital malignancy in Africa. It is mostly found in women between the ages of 25 and 45 and often presents with abnormal genital bleeding. A pap smear will pick up cellular abnormalities which could indicate malignancy.
Cancer of the cervix is a very common cancer amongst women. If it is diagnosed at an early stage it is completely curable. The test used to screen for cancer of the cervix is called a pap smear.
Cells are obtained for the cervix and sent to the laboratory. These cells are examined under a microscope to look for abnormal cells. If abnormal cells are identified at an early stage, they can easily be removed and prevented from developing further into cancer cells.
Who should have a pap smear?
All women who are sexually active should have a regular pap smear. Most women will be exposed to HPV in the early years after becoming sexually active. It is therefore important for women to have a pap smear from a young age and not to think that it in only a test for older women.
Why do cells become abnormal?
A virus; the Human Papilloma Virus or HPV is transmitted during sexual contact and can cause abnormal cells to develop in the cervix that, over time will further develop into cancer cells.
How can cancer of the cervix be prevented?
By having a regular Pap smear
By knowing your HPV status
By being vaccinated against HPV.
A vaccination, known as Cervarix is available. This is an injection that is given to girls and women and in 94% of cases it can protect them against developing cervical cancer. This vaccination is only effective in sexually active women if they have not been exposed to HPV. To know how effective the vaccination will be for you it is important to know your HPV status. The HPV test can be done on the same sample used to do the Pap smear.