What Does a Pap Smear Check For?

Pap Smears Q & A

Did you know that on 1 December 2017, the Australia government changed the cervical screening program and replaced it with the new Cervical Screening Test (CST). This is the test conducted to check your cervix cells at the neck of your womb. It is particularly imperative for menopausal women.

Question 1: How was the old pap test conducted?

Cells from your cervix is collected with a pap smear. A pathologist then examined these cells under a microscope. He/she is looking for changes in those cells that may be pre-cancerous. A pap smear is named after the developer, Dr Papanikolaou.

Question 2:  What is the new test?

Cell samples are suspended in a liquid and run through a special machine, searching for HPV DNA, by genotyping. Researchers have shown it is human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes the cancerous cell changes. The new test detects HPV at an earlier stage than the old style of test.

 Question 3:What is HPV?

HPV is a virus spread through intimate genital contact and is the most common sexually transmitted disease. About 80% of women will have HPV during their lifetime.

Question 4: Do I still need to have the cotton bud smear taken from my cervix?

Your doctor will collect cell samples as previously done.

Question 5. Is menopause a danger age for cervical cancer risk?

Statistics show that older women are at greater risk with women over 50 far more likely to get cervical cancer. On average, about 75% of cervical cancer deaths occur in women over 50.

Question 6. What if I have an objection to a doctor examining my private parts?

If you deem such an exam as inappropriate, doctors now have the option for you to provide a self-collected sample.

Question 7. What age should I have the test done?

It is recommended that all women aged between 25 and 74 get tested every 5 years.

Question 8.  Why is it not necessary to be tested after 74 years of age?

The risk of cervical cancer after 74 is extremely low. Doctors recommend an ‘exit’ test as a final exam.

Question 9. How long after my last PAP smear test should I get the CST test?

Experts suggest you do the new test 2 years after your last PAP test and thereafter every 5 years.

Question 10. What do I do if my test is positive?

This depends on what type of HPV is detected. If the levels are high, your doctor will refer you to a specialist for a colposcopy. This is preformed by a gynaecologist with a speculum (that duck shaped cold instrument that is used to spread open the vagina) examination and further treatment will then be decided upon. If it is a low-level reading, the test will be repeated a year later, as your immune system may clear the infection.

Question 11.Should I have the Gardasil vaccine?

This vaccine is specifically designated for year 7 girls, as they become sexually active, to protect against nine types of HPV. However, this does not offer protection from all the other HPV types that possibly can cause cervical cancer. 

Question 12. How do I look for cancer symptoms?

Cervical cancer symptoms display unusual bleeding patterns - different to your normal, as well as a smelly brown coloured vaginal discharge. You will probably experience pain during sex, pelvic pain and burning sensations in your vagina.

Question 13. What if I have had a hysterectomy?

If your cervix was removed in a total hysterectomy, you still need to have cells tested from the top of your vagina. If it was a partial hysterectomy, then the cervix cells still require testing.

Question 14. What if I test positive when pregnant?

In about 1 of 25,000 cases a mother can transmit the HPV virus to her baby as the baby comes through the birth canal. The infant develops a very rare condition called papillomatosis. The child gets HPV warts in the throat, thus restricting the airways and causing breathing difficulties. This can develop in infants, during adolescence or even in adults. Many just don’t know they have it and people develop the condition at differing ages. It can then last for a few years or many years, but it does necessitate many regular laser operations to remove the warts. It is highly recommended that you have a smear test during pregnancy, as a caesarean birth can be your option.

Question 15. Where do I get more information?

Check the Department of Health website.

 

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