A pap smear (or cervical smear test) is a way to check on the health of your cervix
Not only can a pap detect sexually transmitted infections (STIs), it is a also quick and simple means of screening for early warning signs that cervical cancer might develop in the future. If abnormal cells are noticed during your pap they can be closely observed and/or treated to prevent cancer from developing. A pap is also a chance to touch base with your healthcare provider around any infections or discomfort you may be experiencing. Marie Stopes has 14 centres across South Africa, to make an appointment for a pap smear book online or call us on 0800 11 77 85. If it’s your first time having a pap smear or you don’t get why it’s so important anyway we’ve provided the answers to our Frequently Asked Questions in this section but if there’s something we missed ask us a question and we’ll get back to you.
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Pap Smear FAQs
The South African HPV Advisory Board recommend that a woman begin having pap smears when she becomes sexually active or turns 21 each year until the age of 30 and then every 3 years after the age of 30.
The test looks for changes in the cells of your cervix. Changes happen very slowly but can lead to serious problems like cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the number one killer of South African women. Often, there are no symptoms, until the condition is at an advanced stage. If abnormal cells are noticed at screening, they can be closely observed and/or treated to prevent cancer from developing. Regular screening has been proven to reduce the risk of cancer by 90%. Many women feel nervous about having a smear test, yet regular screening has saved thousands of lives by discovering problems before they become serious.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
The sample taken during your smear can also be used to test for HPV. HPV is a common viral infection, which can be passed on during sex. It can show up in the cells of your cervix and sometimes causes an abnormal or unclear smear test result. There are many different types of HPV, some of which have been linked to cervical cancer. The test can spot HPV even before changes can be seen on the cervix. This means women at risk of cervical cancer can be identified much earlier and their health can be monitored closely.
You cannot be screened during your period, so the best time to make your appointment is roughly two weeks after the first day of your period (between days 10 and 16 of your monthly cycle).
The nurse will ask you to lie back and will gently insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina, so she can view your cervix. A brush or spatula is used to take a sample of cells from just inside the opening of your cervix.
Women usually report finding their pap smear momentarily uncomfortable but note that it is extremely quick. Most women tell us that their health and piece of mind is worth the brief and mild discomfort. It is best to try to relax as much as possible, to reduce potential discomfort.
The laboratory will examine your sample for any cells which appear to be irregular. The results will be returned to the Marie Stopes centre were you had your exam who will inform you of any irregularities.
Any change in the cells of your cervix usually happen very slowly so there is no need to panic if your results come back as irregular. Our staff can give you a full explanation of what the test results show, and advise you on what to do next. If your results show cell changes, we may recommend that you have another smear test after a period of time or refer you to the appropriate medical specialist for further examination.