Quick, when was your last Pap smear test? Recently? Or so long ago that you do not even remember? While not the most pleasant part of a woman’s physical examination, regular Pap smear tests are important to detect possible abnormalities in the cervix.
During a Pap smear, your doctor will insert a small tool into the vulvar/genital opening, and scrape the inside of the cervix to get a sample of cells. This procedure takes only a few minutes and though some women may find it uncomfortable or embarrassing for personal reasons, it is the only way to detect unusual cells.
Unusual or abnormal cells do not automatically mean cervical cancer. Sometimes abnormalities stem from infections or diseases transmitted during intercourse. In these cases, your doctor can prescribe treatments to help deal with these issues and provide resources to help protect yourself from recurring health issues.
In most cases, women are unaware that they may have abnormal cells. There are usually no obvious symptoms for cervical infections or cancer, especially in the earliest stages. This makes having regular Pap smear tests a must for being proactive in taking care of your health.
There are cases where abnormalities do indicate the presence of cancerous cells in the cervix. According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, every year around 400,000 Canadian women have abnormal Pap smear results. Of that number, approximately 1300 to 1500 women will develop or have already developed cervical cancer. The death rates in Canada are around 400 women a year and while the numbers have dropped in the last two decades, that is still 400 women too many.
Therefore, early detection is very important and that means having regular Pap smear tests. For most women the general guidelines are to being having Pap smears within the first couple of years of beginning to have intercourse or by her early 20s even if she is still a virgin. Most women who show a pattern of healthy results will need to have further checkups every two or three years. Those women with a history of cervical cancer or other health issues may need to continue having annual Pap smears. There is no official cut-off age but many doctors stop conducting Pap smears on patients around age 70 and certainly for those women who have had their cervix removed.
You can learn more at www.sogc.org