Papanicolaou test or the Pap smear test is an examination of the cells taken from the tip of the cervix to detect premalignant and malignant process. Cervix is the lower part of the womb or the uterus that opens at the vagina. This test is a part of a gynecological exam. Pap Smear Test is done to detect cancerous or precancerous conditions of the cervix. Most of the cancers of the cervix can be found out early using this method and can be thus prevented. This test was invented by a doctor called Georgios Papanikolaou and is named after him.
This first Papanicolaou test should be done once you have had a sexual lovemaking or if you are 21 years old. After that, women should perform the test regularly every 2 years. If the woman is over 30 years old, and the test has been negative for 3 times continuously, you may need to get it done every 3 years. Women who have had their uterus and cervix remove and have not had any case of cervical cancer before need not have this test done regularly. The screening guidelines vary from country to country. If there are no abnormal cells present in the cervix, the Pap Smear Test will show as negative.
If the result is abnormal, more tests are needed like biopsy or HPV tests. Abnormal results does not necessarily mean the condition of cancer, it could be a vaginal or cervical infection. If the test is ‘normal’ it means the cervix is healthy. If result is ‘unsatisfactory’ it means the sample taken of the cells was not a good sample and cannot be read properly. In this case the Pap Smear Test needs to be repeated again. ‘Benign changes’ would mean that you might have an infection and ‘ASCUS’ means more tests may be done to find if HPV is responsible for the changes. ASCUS is the short form for Atypical Squamous Cells of Undetermined Significance.
Papanicolaou test may be little uncomfortable as it may create a feeling of pressure during the procedure similar to that of menstrual cramps. One should avoid taking Pap Smear Test while menstruating since it may affect the accuracy of the test results. Also women should avoid douching or sexual lovemaking 24 hours before the test. Vaginal creams, diaphragms and tampons should not be used or inserted 24 hours before taking the test and the woman should empty bladder just before the Pap smear test to reduce discomfort.
In this test the cells are gathered from the outer opening of the cervix using a tool and then these cells are smeared or spread on a slide and placed under a microscope. The aim is for checking any abnormalities and to detect the pre cancerous changes which are caused by human papillomaviruses or HPVs. Women who have an increased risk of cervical cancer, HIV infection and decreased immunity need to be screened frequently. One may notice slight spotting after the Pap Smear test is performed and the results should be available after a couple of days. It is a relatively painless and safe procedure. Papanicolaou test is the most effective screening method developed in prevention of cancer. In the countries where Pap smear tests are not routinely performed, the percentage of women being affected by cancer is higher.