It’s a quick, simple procedure that takes just minutes – but it could save your life. The pap smear is one of the most basic health checks for women, and it’s also one of the most important.
If you’re an adult woman under the age of 69, you should be having one every year to detect abnormal cells or precancerous changes in the cervix. This is known as preventative care and it’s crucial if you want to live as long and healthy a life as possible.
When should I start having regular pap smears?
Any woman who is sexually active should be having an annual pap smear (also known as pap test).
I’ve heard that pap smears can help prevent cancer. Is this really true?
Yes. Pap smears work by detecting cervical cancer as early as possible, giving you the best chance of effective treatment and recovery. They can even show abnormal cells that may lead to cancer in the future, enabling the risk of disease to be removed before it can manifest. All of this means that this simple test, available at any clinic, is the most reliable way to treat or prevent abnormalities before they become life threatening.
Can pap smears also detect other issues?
Yes. The test is able to identify non-cancerous conditions too, like infections and inflammation that may need to be treated.
Are there ways to reduce my risk of cervical cancer?
Yes, there are several:
- Go for regular (annual) pap smears so your doctor can find and treat any abnormal cells before they become cancerous.
- If you are 26 or younger, you can have a vaccine to protect you against HPV, the human papillomavirus. A certain strain of HPV is responsible for most cases of cervical cancer, and it’s passed from person to person during unprotected genital contact. Most women who contract HPV don’t even know they have it, and in some cases it may clear up on its own. In other instances, it can cause changes in the cells of the cervix that could lead to cancer, and that’s where pap smears come in – they’re able to identify these changes.
- Be monogamous. Having sex with just one partner can lower your risk of contracting HPV and developing cervical cancer. Make sure your partner is being monogamous too!
- Always use condoms. The second best way to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), like HPV and others, is to use protection every time you have sex – be it vaginal, oral and/or anal sex. The best way is to abstain from sex. However, if you don’t abstain, always use condoms. Research has found that condom use is linked to lower cervical cancer rates.
How should I prep for my pap smear?
If possible, try not to let your pap test coincide with your period. For two days leading up to the test, AVOID the following:
- Vaginal douches
- Vaginal sex
- Birth control foams, creams or jellies
- Vaginal creams or medications
Where can I go to have a pap smear?
Marie Stopes clinics across SA offer women’s wellness check-ups to help identify any issues and keep you in the best possible health. Read more about this service – which includes pap smears and other vital health checks for women – and then book an appointment at your nearest Marie Stopes centre. You can book quick and easily online, or you can phone 0800 11 77 85.