A Pap smear is also known as a pap test. It is a simple procedure to check for signs of cancer of cervix.
The cervix is the lower, narrow portion of the uterus (womb) where it joins with the top end of the vagina (birth canal).
Doctors and other specially trained health care professionals (physician assistants, nurse practitioners) perform Pap smears.
The individuals that perform Pap smear are called clinicians and generally done in a clinic or in a hospital.
With Pap smear, it is very easy to detect any infection, inflammation, abnormal cervical cells, or cervical cancer that is present in your body. The Pap smear also detects the changes in the cells of your cervix. These changes in the cervical cells are the signs of cervix cancer development.
For a Pap smear, you’ll be asked to lie down on an exam table where the clinician introduces a special instrument called a speculum into your vagina.
The insertion of speculum helps open your vagina to take a sample of cells in the region of the cervix with a wooden scraper or with a small cervical brush. The sample is then placed on a glass slide, preserved with a fixative and sent to a laboratory for a test.
In the laboratory, the sample cells on the glass slide are examined for signs of changes in the cells because they undergo a series of changes before turning into a cancer.
So, a Pap smear can identify the changes (if any) in the cervix cells long before you have a cervical cancer. The cervical cancer is not life-threatening if it is detected early. So, have Pap smears regularly to detect the cancer at an early stage.
Usually it takes three weeks to get test results. If your Pap smear is negative, then the results are normal whereas if it is positive then the results are abnormal where the changes in the cervix cells appeared.
Abnormal results of Pap smear describe several conditions:
Dysplasia: In this condition, the cervical cells go through a series of changes in their form where it looks abnormal under the microscope. The dysplasia is classified as mild, moderate, or severe, depending upon the appearance of abnormal cells under the microscope.
Squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL): This condition describes the abnormal growth of squamous cells (thin, flat cells that form the surface of the cervix) on the surface of the cervix.
The changes in the cells are described as low grade or high grade, depending on how much of the cervix is affected and how the abnormal cells appear.
Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN): This condition describes how much of the thickness of the cervix lining contains abnormal cells.
Atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS): This condition describes the slightly abnormal squamous cells, which don’t clearly suggest the presence of precancerous cells.
Carcinoma in situ: This condition describes the changes of the cells that affect the top layers of the cervix but don’t go beyond the cervix.
Your doctor may perform another Pap smear or suggest a colposcopy depending upon your test results.