Pap smears are tests done by a doctor to evaluate the cells of the cervix (mouth of the uterus). Changes can occur within these cells without one noticing it or any discomfort or bleeding. Therefor it is important that we pick these changes up, as they can be precursors to cancer.
This is a very easy test that is done by your doctor by inserting a speculum (a small metal instrument) into the vagina. This enables the doctor to see the cervix, and then to gently remove some cells with a wooden spatula. These cells are then sent for testing.
The doctor or sister must then inform you of the results of the result.
The cells of the cervix undergo changes long before they become cancer. Thus abnormal / atypical cells do not mean cancer. If you receive a phone call or a letter informing you that you have abnormal / atypical cells do not panic. All this means is that cells have been discovered which can be treated with a small procedure. This will prevent further changes from occuring.
What results can I expect?:
In which case the test can be repeated in 1-3 years.
ASCUS (atypia), LSIL (low grade dysplasia) OR CIN 1 (Cervical Intra-Epithelial Neoplasia):
When these are the results you will be asked to return for another pap smear in 4-6 months. The reason is that these cells could actually return to their normal state in this time. The question is often asked if 6 months isn't to long. The answer is that changes will happen over a period of 10-15 years if they are to get worse, therefor we do have time.
HSIL (High grade dysplasia) or CIN 11 or 111:
When this is the result of the test you will be called back for a colposcopy. With this test the doctor will examine the cervix with a magnifying glass. This enables the doctor look at the cervix to identify these abnormal cells and if needs be to treat them with a very small procedure. In this way cancer of the cervix can be prevented.
Abnormalities of the cervix cells are usually associated with HPV ( Human Papiloma Virus). These HPV's play a role in the development of abnormal cells. Even so it is not a cause for concern if your doctor tells you that ther is HPV present as 35% of the population has HPV present.
The pap smear is a very usefull test to alert us of abnormal / atypical cells on the cervix which may or may not need treatment to prevent cancer from developing. It is important to remember though - this test only shows what is happening on the cervix not the uterus or ovaries.