What is Pap Smear?
We hear the term Pap smear being thrown around a lot, but what is it exactly? Pap Smear, otherwise known as the Papanicolaou Smear, is used to test for cervical cancer.
Why must I go for Pap Smear?
Cervical cancer is the 6th most common cancer among Singapore women. Although the mortality rate for cervical cancer has steadily decreased since 1968, it is still a pretty high number: 3.4 per 100,000 population per year (2003-07). The majority of cervical cancers undergo a pre-malignant phase called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). The aim of Pap smear is to detect any pre-malignant lesions before they become cancerous.
What is pap smear, really?
Essentially, it is a procedure to test for cervical cancer in women. It involves collecting cells from your cervix with a speculum inserted into your vagina. These cells are then smeared directly onto a glass slide and fixated with alcohol. Another way to screen for anomalies in the cervix is HPV DNA testing. It is more sensitive than the conventional Pap smear. However, it is less specific than the former thus not recommended as a procedure for routine testing.
Who is high risk for cervical cancer?
When, and how often should we go for pap smear?
All sexually active women should undergo screening from 25 years old. One should be tested at least every 3 years. The main reason for regular screening is because HPV, as a sexually trnasmissible virus, may not be detected until 3-5 years after exposure. Cancerous lesions also take several years to develop. After the age of 69, one can be discharged from screening so long the smear taken at 69 years old is negative, and that the last 2 consecutive screening within the last 10 years has too shown to be negative.
I have had Gardasil vaccine – should I still go for pap smear regularly?
Yes, you should continue regular screening as HPV vaccines do not completely prevent cervical cancer. Vaccines such as Gardasil are mainly targeted at Type 16 and 18, which are the most common HPV types that cause cancer. Women are still at risk from infection from other oncogenic types, so one should still sustain a vigilant habit of regular screening of your cervix.