When you lie on the exam table with your feet in stirrups, you may not even notice the light, momentary pressure of the swab to gather cells from your cervix. This quick test, however, is a Pap smear, and it can save your life.
A Pap smear detects cervical cancer early before it’s metastasized and become deadly. Ignoring this test (and your annual pelvic exam) puts you at risk.
The American Cancer Society predicts that approximately 4,250 women will die from cervical cancer this year. Cervical cancer usually strikes in midlife, and women between 35 and 44 are most often diagnosed with it. You aren’t at great risk when you’re younger than 20, but more than 15% of cases of cervical cancer hit women older than 65. In these cases, in which cervical cancer was diagnosed late in life, the women had not gotten regular tests (Pap smears) for cancer before they were 65.
Cervical cancer was once one of the major causes of cancer death for women, but testing with Pap smears has greatly reduced the incidences of death due to the disease.
Research supports Pap smears to identify cervical cancer early and to cure the condition before it causes serious complications, including death. In one study, women who had cervical cancer detected early with a Pap smear had a 92% cure rate, while women who were diagnosed due to symptoms only had a 66% cure rate.
A Pap smear finds cancer when it’s at a more treatable stage. Dr. Poliakoff can excise irregular cells before they spread and cause irreparable harm.
Most women should start getting Pap smears at age 21. Having the test be part of your annual pelvic exam is easy, but you may schedule the Pap just every three years if you have no family history of cervical cancer or personal history of cervical cancer.
You’re said to have a “negative” Pap smear if no traces of abnormal cells showed up on your screening. A “positive” or “abnormal” result is not a diagnosis of cervical cancer. What it does mean is that irregular cells are present on your cervix, and that warrants further investigation.
Dr. Poliakoff may recommend waiting a few months and repeating your Pap smear, as some types of irregular cells resolve on their own. If you have a specific type of cell, called squamous intraepithelial lesion, it indicates the cells may be precancerous. If these cells are found, we recommend you do additional screenings and have treatment to remove these cells before they become cervical cancer. These additional tests may involve a colposcopy, which uses a special magnifying instrument to view the cervix, vulva, and vagina. Dr. Poliakoff may also do a biopsy in conjunction with a colposcopy. This tissue sample is taken from areas that look suspect and sent to a lab for analysis.
A Pap smear is a routine part of your pelvic exam, but it’s done for a good reason: It saves lives. Don’t put off your annual exam and Pap smear. Call the office, or schedule an appointment using this website today.