One of the most important health check-ups a woman gets is a Pap test (or Pap smear). In addition to your yearly physical, this preventative health procedure is crucial in screening for cervical cancer, infections and the genital human papillomavirus (HPV).
According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, “more than 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year.” Regular cervical screening leads to early detection, and therefore treatment, of HPV and cervical cancer.
Cervical Health Awareness Month
The United States Congress first recognized January as National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month in 2002. The National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) recognizes January as Cervical Health Awareness Month.
Bringing awareness to cervical cancer urges women to have a cervical screening through a Pap test (Pap smear) or pelvic exam. Regular pap smears screen for cervical cancer by detecting abnormal cells before they become cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer screening with cervical cytology has increased due to cervical health awareness. Fortunately, incidences of cervical cancer have decreased by more than 50 percent in the past 30 years, largely due to the increase of screenings conducted through routine Pap smears.
Detecting abnormal cells early through routine Pap smears is critical in maintaining cervical health.
What is a Pap Smear?
In the 1920s, Greek pioneer Georgios Papanikolaou discovered that uterine cancer cells could be detected in vaginal smears. He developed what we know today as the Papanicolaou test, or Pap smear. A Pap smear is a procedure that screens for cervical cancer.
Your doctor performs the screening by using a small plastic spatula and brush to collect cells. During a Pap smear, cells are scraped and extracted from the cervix. These cells are then microscopically examined for the detection of cancerous or precancerous lesions.
How Do You Prepare for a Pap Smear?
The Pap smear procedure is done at your doctor’s office. It may be mildly uncomfortable but doesn’t cause any long-term pain.
Follow these tips at least 24 hours before your procedure to ensure your test results are most accurate.
Avoid using any vaginal medicines or spermicidal foams, creams or jellies for two days before
Try not to schedule a Pap smear during your menstrual period, if possible
When Should You Get a Pap Smear?
It’s recommended for women to begin routine Pap smears at age 21, regardless of sexual history. After the initial Pap smear at age 21, regular screening every three years is recommended. You can decide with your doctor when to begin a Pap smear and how often to do so.
A Pap smear is usually done in conjunction with a pelvic exam. A pelvic exam is different from a Pap smear. The exam checks for medical problems externally and in the vagina and pelvic organs as well as your pelvic muscle floor strength. Getting your Pap smear and pelvic exam done is also known as your “well-woman visit,” or gynecological exam with your doctor.
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
High-risk types of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) cause cervical cancer. HPV is mainly transmitted through sexual contact, and most people are infected with HPV shortly after the onset of sexual activity. HPV is a virus that causes warts, and HPV types 16 and 18 are the primary causes of cervical cancer.
Most times, individuals infected with HPV show no signs or symptoms. HPV infections usually clear up without any intervention within a few months after acquisition, and about 90 percent clear within 2 years.
Signs & symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Symptoms of cervical cancer are similar to symptoms of other diseases or infections. This is why it’s important to get screened because examination of abnormal cervical cells can lead to cervical cancer detection.
Common symptoms include the following:
Spotting or light bleeding between or following periods
Menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual
Bleeding after intercourse, douching, or a pelvic examination
Increased vaginal discharge
Pain during sexual intercourse
Unexplained, persistent pelvic and/or back pain
Comprehensive Cervical Health Recommendations
The HPV vaccination shots can prevent HPV. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the HPV vaccination for young preteens at ages 11 and 12. The vaccine is available for all males and females through age 26 but, for individuals age 15 and older, a full three-dose series is needed.
Cervical cancer can often be prevented with regular screening tests and follow-up care. Annual pap smear is a preventative visit that is usually covered by most insurance. In fact, most insurance plans must cover well-woman visits and cervical cancer screening. Depending on your insurance, these services can be done at no cost to you.
Comprehensive cervical health control includes the following:
Usually recommended for preteens
Help prevent infection from high-risk (cancer-causing) and low-risk (genital warts) HPV types
Generally recommended for women beginning at age 21
Suggested routine screening is done in 1-3-year intervals
Diagnosis and treatment of invasive cervical cancer
Cervical Health Awareness Month is a chance to raise awareness about how women can protect themselves from HPV (human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a highly preventable and treatable cancer. HPV is a very common infection that spreads through sexual activity, and it causes almost all cases of cervical cancer.
You can schedule a Pap smear with your annual gynecological examination or request a separate appointment with your doctor. Pap smears are covered by most insurance plans. You may be required to pay a copay, depending on your insurance. If you don’t have a gynecologist, your primary care doctor can refer you to one.
Crimson Care is here to answer any of your questions. We have patient resources for you as well. Schedule an appointment today and start the conversation about cervical health awareness with your doctor!
Learn about health services available at Crimson Care in Tuscaloosa, AL.
Dr. Ramesh Peramsetty -- along with his entire Crimson Care team -- is committed to making medical services convenient and accessible. The clinic offers three Tuscaloosa locations: Crimson Care Skyland, Veterans Memorial, and First Care on McFarland. All locations offer extended weekday hours and one-stop treatment services, including medical care, x-rays, lab work, and prescription dispensing. Crimson Care also provides digital access through its online patient portal. Request prescription refills, complete any necessary patient forms online, review your medical records at any time, and even pay your bill. Check us out today on our website, or give us a call today at Crimson Care Veterans: (205) 507-1100, Crimson Care Skyland: (205) 507-1119, or First Care: (205) 349-2323.