The Reliance GP Blog

Prevent cervical cancer – Why you need a pap smear today
Missy Tysoe June 23, 2016

Blog

Prevent cervical cancer, get a pap smear today.

Ladies, when did you last have a pap smear? If you can’t remember it has probably been longer than 2 years and you should consider making an appointment with your GP.

 

What is a Pap smear?

A Pap smear is a simple test to check your cervix to make sure it is healthy. Your cervix is the opening of the uterus, and is at the top of your vagina. A Pap smear takes only a few minutes and is an effective way to prevent and detect cancer, abnormalities and other infections.

Sometimes the cells of the cervix change from healthy to unhealthy (abnormal). A Pap smear can find abnormal cells before cancer develops.

What causes cervical cancer?

An infection with a virus called HPV (human papillomavirus) is the cause of almost all cervical cancers. There are over 100 different types of HPV. A few of these types are known to cause most of the cervical cancer cases in Australia. HPV is very common. Most people (four out of five) will have HPV at some time in their lives.

In most cases, HPV clears up by itself within a year. Sometimes the virus can stay in your body longer, and can lead to cervical cancer. This usually takes a long time – about 10 years. A Pap smear every two years can find cell changes caused by HPV before they turn into cancer. Your doctor or nurse can then make sure your health is monitored and that you get treatment if you need it, so you can stay healthy.

Who needs a Pap smear?

All women between the ages of 18 and 70 who have ever had sex should have a Pap smear every two years.

Some women may think they do not need a pap smear, but it is important to be checked even of you think you are not at risk. Doctors are often asked by the following groups if they need to be tested;

  • Women with only one sexual partner. Even if you have only ever had sex with your husband, you should still have regular Pap smears. If you have ever had sex, even with only one partner, it is important to keep having Pap smears every two years.
  • Women who have had a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus). You might still need to have Pap smears depending on the type of hysterectomy you have had. Talk to your doctor about what is best for you.
  • Women who have been through menopause. Yes, the risk of getting cancer in the cervix increases with age, even after menopause.
  • Women with irregular bleeding. If you have any unusual bleeding or discharge from your vagina, see your doctor as soon as possible.
  • Women who have had a vaccine that may prevent cervical cancer. Yes, a vaccine is available that can prevent infection with the types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer. Regular Pap smears are still essential as the HPV vaccine does not protect against all the HPV types that can cause cervical cancer.

 

If you can’t remember when you last had a Pap smear, each state and territory has a register where the results of your Pap smear are recorded. A reminder letter will be sent to you when you are overdue for your next Pap smear or follow-up treatment. If you do not want your information recorded on the register or to get reminder letters, tell your doctor.

 

How is a Pap smear done?

You can ask for a female doctor if this helps you feel more comfortable. You will be given a few moments privacy to undress, and you may leave your top half covered. Next the doctor will use a speculum (medical instrument) so your cervix can be seen more clearly. Some cells are gently wiped from your cervix with a small brush or spatula (a small plastic or wooden stick). The cells are placed on a glass slide and sent to a laboratory where they are looked at under a microscope.

Remember, for the person doing the smear, this is just part of their everyday work and they are not embarrassed. The procedure might be a bit uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t hurt. If it hurts, tell your doctor straight away.

What about the results?

When you have your Pap smear it is important that you ask your doctor when and how you will find out about the results. Most results are normal. If your results are not normal this does not necessarily mean you have cancer. Certain types of abnormal cells may need to be treated by a specialist. A positive pap smear result means that early changes to the cervical cells are detected. Over time these changes could progress to cancer, so depending on the exact changes detected, treatment or further monitoring will be recommended.

Sometimes women at higher risk may need to have Pap smears more often. Make sure you talk to your doctor about what is best for you.

Where can I have my Pap smear? You can make an appointment with our Reliance doctors, call 0243 041 333 or book online www.reliancehealth.com.au

More information on HPV and vaccination is available on the Immunise Australia Program website at www.immunise.health.gov.au

A positive pap smear result means that early changes to the cervical cells are detected. Over time these changes could progress to cancer, so depending on the exact changes detected, treatment or further monitoring will be recommended.

Sources:

http://www.cancerscreening.gov.au

Authors: Dr Rodney Beckwith, Melissa Tysoe

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