Papanicolaou test, commonly known as PAP test, PAP smear or cervical smear, is a test used to screen the cervix for any malignant abnormality. Although the procedure can make you feel a little uncomfortable, it is highly accurate and gives reliable results.
PAP smear is highly recommended by all the leading cervical cancer oncologists in India.
PAP test is an out-patient procedure which means that there is no need for using anaesthesia. The patient is made to lie down with legs spread apart. The doctors use a device known as a speculum to keep the vaginal walls open, to easily access the cervix. You can see the whole procedure online along with other cervical cancer surgery videos on Medflick.
A tiny spatula is then inserted to carefully scrape a small portion of cells from the cervix. Doctors may also use a cytobrush, which is a combination of a spatula and brush.
The samples, thus collected, are sent to the laboratory to be examined for any abnormalities.
PAP smear involves the scraping of the cervical tissues for the detailed examination which can be a little discomforting and may be followed by slight cramping. Some patients may even experience temporary vaginal bleeding which can continue for a day or two. This is quite normal, however, if the bleeding or cramps doesn’t stop within a day, it is better to consult your doctor.
Ovarian cancer - PAP test is not reliable when it comes to detecting ovarian cancer and there are very rare chances of an ovarian cancer cell to be detected using this procedure. This usually happens if the cancer cells metastasize from the ovaries towards the cervix through the fallopian tubes and uterus.
Uterine cancer - Just like ovarian cancer, PAP test cannot help to screen uterine cancer. Only in some cases, in which the cancer cells have metastasized towards the cervix, there is a slight possibility of reliable screening.
Doctors usually recommend PAP tests to a women above 21 years of age irrespective of whether they are a virgin or not. Although being a virgin can lower your risks of developing cervical cancer, there are still slight chances that you may acquire the problem. Hence it is better to undergo regular PAP tests, even if you are a virgin.
The fact that PAP tests are very accurate makes it one of the best and the most reliable tests for diagnosing cervical cancer. It is usually recommended to undergo PAP test every three years as:
Undergoing regular PAP tests can help in the early detection and treatment which reduce cervical cancer mortality by about 80 per cent.
Apart from detecting cervical cancer, PAP test can also help to detect HPV or human papillomavirus which is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections.
As far as the age of the patient is concerned, the best cervical cancer specialists in Delhi, India recommend PAP test to patients lying in the age group of 21 to 65 years. If the previous results have been negative, the test can be stopped once you cross 65 years of age. However, in certain cases, the test needs to be continued, especially if you are sexually active. It is, therefore, very important to consult your doctor before taking any decision.
Also, patients who have earlier undergone total hysterectomy i.e. complete removal of the uterus and cervix, for a non-malignant condition, can discontinue having PAP tests.