January is cervical awareness month and it couldn’t have come at a better time, especially now that approximately 50% of women between 25 and 29 years of postpone screening about 15 months, while women aged 60 to 64 out it off for about 33 months, according to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. Delaying cervical cancer smear tests is not only a sign of procrastination, but it can also cost you dearly in the long run. Timely screening saves thousands of lives, but many women are afraid that it will be a painful and embarrassing experience. Even if it were, that would be all the more reason to get it over with as soon as possible. However, a screening test takes only five minutes and it is performed by professional healthcare providers.
Human beings are naturally wary of the unknown, so let’s take a closer look at what a cervical cancer screening tests involves. First of all, if your doctor recommends you to get one that doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she thinks that you have cancer. Thus, do not put it off because you’re afraid they’ll find symptoms. And even if they do, you have to look at the silver lining. Early detection is essential for the successful treatment of cancer. There are two types of screening tests; the Pap test –also known as Pap smear- and the HPV test. The former looks for precancers; cell changes that might become cancer if left untreated, while the latter looks for the human papillomavirus, which can provoke those cell changes.
In a Pap test, the doctor will widen your vagina with a speculum, a plastic or metal instrument. In addition to examining your vagina and cervix, the physician will collect samples of cells and mucus, which will be stored in a slide or in a bottle for further laboratory tests. The HPV test is basically the same, with the addendum that the cells will be tested for the papillomavirus as well. Moreover, the doctor may administer a pelvic exam, and check other organs such as the uterus and ovaries. Conversely, the doctor may give you the pelvic exam and not the Pap test. Ask your doctor to walk you through every step of the way. It’s understandably upsetting to have your private parts examined, but you can rest assured that the doctor takes a purely medical interest in your vagina.
Women should start screening regularly as early as 21 years of age and until they reach 65, and when they turn 30 they may choose to have a HPV test simultaneously. The Pap test is an extremely dependable and effective screening test for cancer, but it does not preclude you from having ovarian, uterine, vaginal or vulvar cancers. If your results are normal, you won’t have to worry about it for another three to five years. After you turn 65, your doctor may tell you that you don’t need to be screened anymore – also if your cervix has been removed in a hysterectomy for reasons not related to cancer, such as fibroids. Until then, get screened regularly, even if you believe that you’re too old to have a child are not having sexual relations.
As a patient, you have to do your homework in order for the test to go off without a hitch and not have it be a traumatizing ordeal. With that in mind, do not douche, wear a tampon, have sex, use birth control foam, cream, or jelly, or use a medicine or cream in your vagina in the two days prior to the test. Furthermore, you can ask the doctor to use a smaller speculum if you’re worried about discomfort, wear a skirt that you can keep on during the test, make an effort to relax and distract yourself, and take a friend with you for moral support, though they’d have to wait in the waiting room, of course.
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