A) What is PAP Smear?
Pap smear or PAP test is done to screen/to identify if you are at high risk for cervical cancer. A positive screening test will be followed by a diagnostic test to confirm the diagnosis.
B) What does the test actually involve?
The test is done in the OPD itself, takes less than 5 minutes. It involves collecting few cells from the cervix using a brush, which is then sent to the laboratory. There can be some discomfort during the test but it usually does not hurt.
C) When and how frequently the test should be done?
PAP screening should start at the age of 21years. If the report is normal, the test needs to be done every 3 years up to the age of 29 years. The test can be done every 3 years between 30-65 years of age, or every 5 years if combined with HPV testing. Screening can stop beyond 65 years provided the results in the last 10 years have been normal.
D) Why should we screen for cervical cancer?
Cervix is very easily accessible by clinical examination, so any suspicious change can be picked up early. Also, there is a very long latent period (can be up to 10 years) between the conversion of cancer (cells that can turn into cancer) to cancer. By screening, we can pick up the abnormality at a stage when the treatment is possible with good results.
E) Is it necessary to get the PAP test done if I have taken the HPV vaccine?
HPV is the virus that causes cervical cancer. Getting the vaccine reduces the chance but may not protect you completely from cancer. Hence, it is important to continue the screening even after vaccination.