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No cancer screening test in medical history is as effective for early detection of cancer as the Pap examination. Sadly, 80 percent of women who die of cervical cancer have not had a Pap examination in five years or more.
A Pap examination is a simple procedure in which your physician painlessly obtains cells from the surface of your cervix, often using a special brush to sample the area where most cancers begin to develop. The cells are placed on a glass slide, which is sent to a laboratory. At the laboratory, the cells are stained and then examined under a microscope by specially trained cytotechnologists. If an abnormality is found, a pathologist, a physician who specializes in laboratory medicine, studies the cells and makes the final interpretation.
Its primary purpose is to detect early cervical cancer and pre–cancerous conditions. An abnormal Pap smear often means pre–cancer, a change that can lead to cervical cancer if left untreated.
If cancerous or pre–cancerous cells are found, the next step is a more thorough examination of your cervix, during which your physician will obtain tissue biopsies for a pathologist to study.
Sometimes, an abnormal Pap smear means there are uncertain cell changes that could be pre–cancerous or could be entirely benign, needing no further investigation. A Pap examination also may detect infections such as bacteria, yeast or viruses. One kind of sexually transmitted virus is important to detect because of its link to cervical cancer. This virus is Human Papillomavirus (HPV), sometimes called “Condyloma” or genital warts.
Every woman should have an annual Pap examination when she becomes sexually active or turns 18 years old – whichever comes first. Regular Pap examinations should continue after menopause and after a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus).
To ensure that the cells your physician obtains during the exam are adequate for evaluation, you should abstain from sexual activity and avoid using vaginal douches or lubricants for 48 hours before the examination.
Pathologists recommends that you have yearly Pap and pelvic examinations. Cervical cancer takes time to develop into a deadly disease. The pelvic exam is added insurance, it can help detect signs of cancer in female organs other than the cervix.
Any woman can develop cancer of the cervix, but you are at a higher risk if: You have had multiple sex partners or a male partner who has had multiple female partners. If your partner has had sex with other women, you are at high risk even if you have had only one partner.