Pap Smears

Pap smear was developed to detect any pre-cancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix. The Pap Smear test can detect changes in cells of the cervix at an early stage. These changes can potentially lead to cancer in later stages. Therefore, early detection allows early treatment prior the abnormal cells enters the cancerous stages.

There are usually no symptoms in the early stages of cervical cancer. The only way to detect any changes is to do a pap smear test. However, like many tests, the pap smear is not always 100% accurate. Sometimes the smear sample may miss abnormal cells, or it may be hard to read because it contains blood or mucus. However, despite the limitations, according to the Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing’s National Cervical Screening Program, pap smears done every 2 years can help to prevent up to 90% of the most common type of cervical cancer.

How is a pap smear done?

The test can be done in your doctor’s office as a part of a pelvic examination. The test is slightly uncomfortable, but it should cause no pain and no anaesthetic is required. Your results should be available in 1 or 2 weeks time.

How often should I have a pap smear?

It is suggested to take a test every 2 years because the most common type of cervical cancer can take more than 10 years to develop. If your previous tests have shown any changes, or you are at higher risk of getting cervical cancer, your doctor may recommend more frequent testing.

Who should have a pap smear?

As a general guideline, you should have an initial smear test within one or 2 years of becoming sexually active. Even if you have had the cervical cancer vaccine (Gardasil or Cervarix), you still need to have the test done. Subsequently smear tests should be performed every 2 years, even if you are no longer having sex because the risk of cervical cancer increases with age. It is estimated that at least 50% of women diagnosed with cervical cancer each year are over 50.

The smear test should be continued through menopause, until the age of 70 when your doctor may advise that continued testing is no longer required.

If you have a total hysterectomy, routine smear tests may no longer be necessary, but it is important that you check with your doctor before discontinuing them.

Where can I go to have a pap smear?

  • Your general practitioner
  • A community or women’s health centre
  • A family planning or sexual health clinic
  • A women’s health nurse
  • An Aboriginal Medical Service
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