The topic of pap smears, HPV and cervical cancer is relevant to any woman who is 21 or older, so if that’s you – or your partner, friends, siblings or the women in your community – listen up and help spread the word.
Cervical cancer is one of the most common and deadliest forms of the disease, but unlike other types of cancer, it can be detected early and treated – and in some cases, even prevented before it happens. That’s where pap smears come in.
What is a pap smear?
A pap smear is a quick, simple and relatively painless procedure that can safeguard you against cervical cancer. It’s a test that doctors perform to check for the presence of cancerous or pre-cancerous cells in the cervix. When performed regularly, it’s a form of preventative healthcare as it can detect the presence of unhealthy cells before they have the chance to develop into cancer.
Pap smears take just a couple of minutes and can be performed by your gynae, or at a clinic. They’re not particularly uncomfortable, though every woman experiences them differently. Some women feel nothing at all, and other women report a little discomfort.
If a pap smear detects abnormal cells, those cells can easily be removed from the cervix before they result in cancer.
Do I need a pap smear?
Yes, if you are a woman who is 21 years of age or older. All adult women should undergo regular pap smears.
How often should I have a pap smear?
If the results of your first pap smear are normal, it’s recommended you go every three years. For women who have abnormal results, more regular testing may be required. Your doctor, clinic or gynae will advise you on how often you should be having a pap smear.
What’s the link between HPV and cervical cancer?
In the vast majority of cases, cervical cancer is caused by high-risk strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a form of sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is extremely common.
In some women, this STI is contracted and then suppressed by the immune system, causing only temporary changes to the cells in the cervix. This explains why some women have abnormal pap smear results, but normal results six months or a year later.
In other cases, HPV can be persistent and eventually lead to pre-cancerous or cancerous cells. Pap smears will test for abnormal cells, and if follow-up pap smears still detect these abnormalities, a simple procedure can be performed to remove the threat.
Where can I go for a pap smear?
A pap smear can be performed by your gynae or at any Marie Stopes centre across South Africa. Visit your most convenient Marie Stopes centre, and you’ll also be able to chat to us about your contraceptive options, get screened for STIs and HIV, and get personalised sexual healthcare advice.