Pap smear or Papanicolaou test checks for changes in the cells of the cervix. Most women spend a lot of time and money on their outer appearance but forget that the well-being of the internal female organs is equally important.
What is a Pap Smear
The Pap smear test is a painless procedure that could detect a woman’s disease early. It provides an easy way of knowing what’s happening to the hidden cervix and vagina. The test evaluates the changes in appearance of cells lining these female parts. Invented by Greek doctor, Dr Georgios Papanicolaou, and his co-workers in 1948, the Pap test is still accepted worldwide for being very informative and inexpensive. It is routinely used as a screening test to find early warning signs that cancer might develop in the future. The Pap smear is meant especially for women with no gynaecological symptoms or complaints, after 35 years of age.
Pap Smear Test (Also Known As Papanicolaou Test)
The collection of a Pap smear is simple, quick and painless. It is done in the outpatient clinic, commonly after a gynaecological examination.
A pathologist or gynaecologist collects it. The qualified doctor gently rubs a sterile cotton swab or wooden spatula over the cervix and vaginal lining. The invisible cells collected on the swab are spread on a couple of clean glass slides. The slides are then sprayed over with alcohol. When dry, they are dropped into an envelope and sent to the laboratory for examination. In the laboratory, the slides are stained and examined under a microscope by a pathologist who reports on the changes of the uterine cervix and vaginal lining cells.
Pap Smear Results
The Pap smear test results are reported as a grade :-
- Grade I – Everything is fine.
- Grade II – Something is mildly wrong. It may be an infection or inflammation that also affects the appearance of the lining cells.
- Grade III – The lining cells are definitely disturbed. Patients in grade III must receive more aggressive treatment, so that the changes are arrested and not allowed to progress to the next grade. The Pap test should be repeated after adequate treatment.
- Grade IV – Rings loud alarm bells. It indicates the great possibility of malignant changes in the cells.
- Grade V – Confirms the presence of malignant changes in the gynaecological system.
Abnormal Pap Smear
When doctor says that papanicolaou test or Pap smear was abnormal, it means that the test found some cells on the cervix that do not look normal. It is important to remember that almost all abnormal Pap smear results are NOT due to cancer. Not all problems need treatment and those that do can be treated quite
easily and very successfully.
Almost all abnormal Pap smear results are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV)
Low Grade Abnormalities – Possibility of HPV (human papillomavirus) viral infection but not cancer. You could have caught HPV recently, or many months or years ago.The most likely thing is that your body will clear this infection and your Pap smear will return to normal in one to two years.
In a very small number of women the HPV infection is not cleared but stays in the cervix. In these women, there is a risk that abnormalities may develop
that might lead to cancer over many years if they are not treated. A repeat Pap smear is needed to make sure the infection clears.
High Grade Abnormalities – It is most likely that that there is an HPV infection which has persisted and caused an abnormality. This may lead to cancer over many years if left untreated. This result does NOT mean that the individual has cancer, but it is important to have it checked. A colposcopy examination would be needed.
Glandular Abnormalities – Glandular abnormalities are uncommon and in most women the changes are found to be unimportant.However, in some women the changes are due to abnormalities that do need to be treated in order to prevent cancer. This result does NOT mean that the individual has cancer, but it is important
to have it investigated. A colposcopy and/or the biopsy examination would be needed.
Human Papillomavirus And Pap Smear Test
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus that is passed on through genital contact like vaginal or anal sex. It is also passed on by skin-to-skin contact.HPV is not curable, although the cellular damage it causes is treatable and a vaccine against human papillomavirus strains is available.
It is estimated that up to 60% of sexually active women harbor this virus on their cervix or in their vaginal area. Most woman remain unaware about human papillomavirus – till her Pap smear shows evidence of HPV. Anyone who has ever had sex can have HPV – it’s so common that four out of five people will have had HPV at some time in their lives. In most cases, it clears up by itself in one to two years. A doctor would more aggressively treat a woman with an abnormal Pap smear if she tests positive for an human papillomavirus type that is more likely to be associated with the development of cervical cancer.
A Pap smear every two years can detect the presence of human papillomavirus, which can then be monitored and/or treated to prevent cancer.
Pap Smear Test For Cervical Cancer Detection
Worldwide, Pap smears have played an extremely important and successful role in minimizing the incidence of cervical cancer. In a German study, it was found that 20-25 per cent of the women with no complaints already had some silent gynaecological disease. It is now a universally accepted fact that a woman may be suffering from changes to the lining of the uterine cervix, with no complaints. It is also a recognized fact that the success of cervical cancer therapy depends very much on the early detection of the cancer. Since cancer of the cervix may take about 10 years to become full blown, early detection and treatment of cervical cancer has a very good outcome.
Pap Smear Guidelines
It is therefore recommended that women without gynaecological symptoms take the first Pap test at the age of 35 years. If no pathology is found (grade I), it should be repeated yearly. In case there is any cell disturbance or inflammation, the test must be repeated following treatment or after six months. With a regular Pap smear to monitor the status of her gynaecological health, a woman can protect herself from immense suffering. The Pap smear test helps a woman live a long and healthy life.