Pap smear: what it is for and why it should be done

Every woman, after the age of 25, should do so with some regularity.

Not everyone knows who Georgios Papanicolaou was, but now every woman after 25 years ago (or, at least, should do) with a certain regularity a test he developed: the Pap test.

Conceived in 1945, the Pap test is based on the cytological examination (ie cells) of the cervical-vaginal area and allows to identify alterations that can be a sign of various pathologies.

Initially designed to identify cervical cancers early, today it provides the gynecologist with several useful information.

A small painless withdrawal

No anxieties or fears: those who have to do it for the first time can go quiet. The Pap test is performed during the gynecological examination in a completely painless way.

During the visit, the gynecologist will gently insert the speculum into the vagina, an instrument that serves to spread the walls in order to make the cervix visible.

In this way it will be easy to take from the surface of the cervix and from the cervical canal, with special spatulas or toothbrushes, cellular material that is subsequently crawled on a slide and then observed under a microscope in the laboratory.

We help the success

To obtain the best results from this exam you should follow a few simple rules:

  1. plan your appointment to make sure that at least 4-5 days have passed since your last menstruation;
  2. Seven days must also have passed since the end of any local therapy (lavender, cream, candles, etc.) or the use of spermicidal cream;
  3. avoid sexual intercourse in the previous two days.

At what age should you do

Obviously, to do a Pap test, a complete gynecological examination is necessary. That’s why the most suitable age to do it depends on when you start having full reports.

Generally it is the same gynecologist who talks about it at the first visit and evaluates together if and when the examination is appropriate.

This until the age of 25. Then, if ever performed, the Pap test should no longer be postponed and until the age of 64 should be done every three years, even in complete absence of symptoms.

Fundamental for prevention

The Pap test is in fact able to give a lot of important information. First of all, the identification of so-called precancerous cellular lesions.

It means it can recognize cervical cancer before it even develops. And, as we all know, early detection in cancer diseases can save lives.

Cervical cancer is in fact very insidious, presenting symptoms only at a very advanced stage, when the disease is almost always irrecoverable.

That is why periodic checks are the only possible form of prevention.

Abnormal result? Don’t panic

A “positive” Pap test does not necessarily indicate a tumor, but the presence of important cellular abnormalities that can also be due to simple inflammations, such as vaginitis.

The observation of the cells taken can highlight the presence of cervicovaginal infections (viral, bacterial, fungal, protozoal), from the most harmless to the most insidious, such as those from papilloma virus.

The next step will be, if necessary, to perform more in-depth investigations such as colposcopy, targeted biopsy and, when indicated, viral typing.

Joycelyn Elders is the author and creator of EmpowerEssence, a health and wellness blog. Elders is a respected public health advocate and pediatrician dedicated to promoting general health and well-being.

The blog covers a wide range of topics related to health and wellness, with articles organized into several categories.

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