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Interesting facts about pap smears you probably didn’t know

The idea of getting a pap smear every year can be daunting and a little scary, but it is very important that all women do this without fail.

How does it work?

Once you have booked your appointment, you will receive a date to get your pap smear done. Do not feel the need to groom the area, just be sure to wash and shower before the appointment. When you get to the appointment, you will remove your bottom garments and lie on the bed. Most doctors will place your feet in loose stirrups. The test usually takes only a couple of minutes and involves inserting a speculum (a smooth plastic tube) into the vagina. The speculum allows your doctor to view the cervix and take a small sample of cells that will be tested and examined.

How important is this test?

Dr Christine Greves, a certified obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, says pap tests are important because they allow us to detect abnormalities before they turn into cancer. She told Bustle: “We sample cells from the cervix to evaluate whether they are normal, pre-cancerous or cancerous.”

But the pap smear, also known as a cervical screening, isn’t only used to look for cancer. Besides being more preventative than exploratory, there are also other reasons for having a smear test.

The test looks at the health of the cells in the cervix and tries to identify any abnormal changes and to detect the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Everyone has HPV

Okay, no everyone, but it is a very common virus. It is known as the “genital flu”. Anyone who has ever been sexually active is most likely to have contracted it.
HPV, which can be transmitted sexually, is responsible for 99.7% of cervical cancers. There are over 100 types of HPV, but only 13 high-risk types cause cancer.

However, if caught early enough, the risk can be minimised.

This is why it is important that you do not  miss your smear tests. There is no other way of finding out whether or not you are at risk, other than having a pap smear done by your gynaecologist or obstetrician.

Cosmopolitan reports that HPV normally has no signs or symptoms so it is very difficult to tell if someone has it. By keeping your appointment for your regular smear tests, high-risk HPV infection and any abnormalities caused by the infection can be identified and treated if needed.

Time your pap smear

According to Dr Angela Jones, Astroglide’s resident sexual health advisor, women should avoid sex, douching, tampon use and having your period a day or two before your pap smear, as these factors may obscure the test results.

Watch your menstrual cycle and try to schedule your pap smear anywhere from 10 to 20 days after the day of your period.

How often should you have a pap smear done?

Previously, women were only encouraged to get a pap smear after age 30, every five years. Now, doctors advise that women should have it done yearly.

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