Discovered by Greek doctor George Papanikolaou, a pap smear test is a method wherein samples are collected from the cervix to determine if there are presence of cells that may develop into cancer. It is an essential routine screening test every woman should have.
Considered as one of the most effective tools in detecting cervical cancer, pap smear test is done simultaneously with a pelvic examination. It starts with the doctor widening the vagina through the use of a speculum.
This will allow him to examine the cervix as well. Samples are collected using plastic spatula and brush.
These samples are placed in certain solutions and brought to the lab for testing.
It takes about two to three weeks before a pap smear test result is released. The test can yield any of the following results:
Negative: When a pap smear test resulted to negative, it means that the cells obtained are not infectious.
Unsatisfactory: A pap smear test result that says “unsatisfactory” means that the sample collected is not sufficient. More often than not, a repeat examination is required.
Benign: The result shows that there is the presence of cells but these are non-cancerous. However, such presence in the pap smear test could mean an infection or any abnormality.
Atypical Cells of Uncertain Significance (ASCUS): This result means cells that cover the outermost part of the cervix of the outer lining of the uterus have HPV with certain abnormalities. Usually, this is followed by DNA testing to confirm presence of high risk HPV infection.
Low-grade / high-grade changes: This often results in frequent exposure to HPV infection that might result to cervical cancer.
Squamous cell carcinoma: A pap smear test that results to squamous cell carcinoma means that cancer cells are evident.
A pap smear test can also be used to detect anal cancer and other vaginal infections. It is not always conclusive because there are other factors involved, which may alter the results.
There are certain limitations such as the adequacy of cells collected. Other minor factors include having sexual relations twenty four hours before the sample collection, if a patient is under medication and menstrual bleeding.
Is pap smear test reliable?
Women are encouraged to have a routine pap smear test. Although this is not a perfect test, still it is a very helpful screening which can detect cervical cancer at its earliest stage.
A routine pap smear test is very important. It can even change one’s life. Such examination is a must for women who have weak immune system brought about by chemotherapy or organ transplant.
It is also recommended for women whose mothers are exposed to diethylstilbestrol and those who are HIV-positive.
Getting a pap smear test has no age limit. However, frequency of the said test is recommended to the following age groups:
- Once a year for women thirty years old and below.
- Women thirty years old and above who have undergone a pap smear test in three consecutive years may continue with the routine once every two or three years.