Gynaecological cancers can affect any part of the female reproductive system. Singapore Cancer Society reported that cervical cancer is amongst the top ten most common types of cancers that affect Singaporean women. Nearly 200 new cases of cervical cancer were recorded every year in Singapore, and about seventy people died from this illness every year, according to the statistics from 2011 to 2015.
Nearly every case of cervical cancer is caused by human papillomavirus infection. Sexually active women are at a higher risk of getting this infection. Fortunately, cervical cancer can be prevented and cured with early detection and treatment. One of the best ways to protect Singaporean women from cervical cancer is through regular cervical cancer screening, such as the pap smear test. Here are seven things Singaporean women need to know about this test.
What is a pap smear test, and how is it done?
The Pap test is a simple cervical screening examination for women that help identify abnormal changes in the cervical cell. The pap smear procedure is fairly simple and quick.
Firstly, the doctor or gynaecologist will begin the examination by positioning the patient on their back on the patient bed. The doctor or medical practitioner will then gently insert a medical device called a speculum into the patient’s vagina. This instrument allows the gynaecologist to see the cervix. Afterwards, a soft brush or swab will be used to gently brush the surface of the patient’s cervix and gather some cervical cells. These cells will be sent to a clinical lab for microscopic examination.
Who should get a pap smear?
Singapore Health Hub recommends women between the age of twenty-five and twenty-nine, especially those who have engaged in sexual intercourse, to opt for this test. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the other hand, suggest women get a Pap test at the age of twenty-one.
Do you still have to take a pap smear test when you are feeling healthy or have been vaccinated?
Cervical cancer, in its initial stages, may not show any symptoms at all. Hence, women should take a pap smear test even when they are feeling healthy. Singaporean women who have taken the Human Papillomavirus or HPV vaccines may have a lesser risk of getting cervical cancer. Nonetheless, Health Hub reported that subtypes of HPV cause around 10 to 30 per cent of cervical cancer cases. Thus, the vaccine does not make women completely immune or protected against every strain of HPV that causes cancer.
Therefore, vaccinated women will still be at risk of cervical cancer and need to take regular cervical cancer screening.
Is pap smear painful?
Generally, a pap smear does not cause major pain. However, some women may experience a bit of discomfort during the test. Speaking to the doctor before taking the test may help them be more at ease, particularly if they have certain concerns. If the patients experience any significant discomfort at any time during the examination, they should inform the doctor.
How often or frequent should you take a pap smear?
If the pap smear test results are normal, then the patients would need to come back for another cervical cancer screening in three years. Nevertheless, if the patients experience any symptoms, then they should consult with their gynecologist or doctor as soon as possible.
Women with abnormal results, however, would need to seek guidance from their attending physician. The doctor may suggest taking a pap smear test more often if the patients are at a higher risk of getting cervical cancer or have a history of having abnormal pap smear result.
How to prepare for a pap smear test?
If the patients are still on period, they should schedule an appointment two weeks after their menstruation started, or up to about one week before their next menstrual cycle begins. These periods are the optimal time to take a Pap smear since the cervical cells collected during these times are clean and clear. Women who have reached menopause may schedule the test at any time.
Patients need to stay away from sexual intercourse, douching, taking a tub bath, and swimming forty-eight hours before the test. Also, they need to avoid products like spermicides, vaginal creams, tampons, lubricants, and vaginal medications. These activities and products can irritate the cervix. Hence, avoiding them will help the doctor get enough cell sample collection.
Other factors that may impact the test result are cervical or vaginal infection and certain medications. If the patients are currently on any medications, they need to consult with their doctor beforehand.
Cervical cancer is a common type of cancer affecting Singaporean women. A cervical cancer screening like pap smear test can help identify changes in the cervix or detecting high-risk cancer-causing strains of HPV even before the abnormal cells become cancerous. Hence, Singaporean women should make it a habit to go for a pap smear test once every three years when they reach certain ages.