The Pap smear was developed in the 1940s by Dr. George Papanicolaou. A simple test, it can detect abnormalities in the cervix before they become cancerous. This test detects 95 percent of cervical cancer and it can occasionally detect endometrial or ovarian cancer and cervical or vaginal infections. A Pap smear is performed during a pelvic examination. After opening the vagina by placing a speculum into it, the doctor will scrape the entire surface of the cervix with a wooden spatula, brush or cotton swab. The doctor will then take a cell sample from the cervical canal with a cotton swab.
WHO’S AT HIGH RISK FOR CERVICAL CANCER?
- women who have had many sex partners
- women who have herpes
- women who have had venereal warts
- women whose mothers took DES while pregnant
- women who began having intercourse before age 18
Microscopic analysis of the cervical cells is performed in a laboratory. A negative result usually indicates that the cervix is normal. A positive result does not prove that cervical cancer or dysplasia has been detected, only that the cells are abnormal and further evaluation is necessary.
TYPES OF PAP RESULTS
The surface of the cervix is normal and healthy.
Atypical Squamous Cells -
Some inflammation is present. This result may indicate a cervical o vaginal infection. An additional Pap smear may be taken within a few months to monitor the condition.
Low-Grade Squamous lntraepithetal Lesion (SIL) -
Abnormal cells that are often considered precancerous were found. If this is left untreated, 30 to 50 percent of women with SIL will develop cervical cancer within five years. Fortunately, at this stage SIL can almost always be treated successfully. A biopsy and a colposcopy should be done. A colposcopy is a painless procedure that allows the doctor to see the cervix magnified. A biopsy involves removing a tiny amount of cervical tissue for examination.
High-Grade (SIL) -
Severe SIL may or may not mean malignant (cancerous) cells. At this stage, if cancer is present it has not spread and is noninvasive. This is highly curable. A biopsy and colposcopy are also done at this time.
Invasive Carcinoma -
At this stage, cancer is present and has spread beyond the outer layer of cells. Although invasive, this cancer can be treated. Treatment for cervical cancer is based on the extent of the cancer, the woman’s age, health, etc. A gynecological cancer specialist will determine treatment.
IT’S IMPORTANT TO BEGIN EARLY
Pap smears should generally be performed the year intercourse has begun (or after age 18) and repeated annually. If you have had an abnormal Pap smear result in the past, your doctor may recommend that you have Pap smears done more frequently.