Are you a woman? Do this for you!
If you’re saying that you haven’t heard of it, you are either lying or you are misfortunate enough to have been born in a place where preventive healthcare, perhaps even healthcare altogether, is not on the agenda. You might have already guessed what this is all about; “Pap test” of course! Pap test, or Pap smear, was invented by and named after the brilliant Greek doctor George Papanicolaou in the first half of the 20th century and it helps prevent and diagnose cervical cancer, a cancer type that only women can suffer from. To be totally honest, there aren’t many cancer types, even these days, which can be so easily and so soon recognized, let alone prevented. Medicine may boast numerous and fascinating breakthroughs, but it is yet to give answers to some of its biggest and most treacherous problems. In that respect, what Pap test has to offer is of huge importance and should still be considered a breakthrough.
The guidelines defining the appropriate screening of women for cervical cancer are really easy to understand and to follow1. The smear test should be implemented on women aged between 21 and 65 years (screening stops at this age, when adequate previous screening data are available), every three years if its results come back normal and every five years when Pap test is combined with HPV testing (the so-called co-testing) and, again, there’s no abnormal findings. If results are not normal, your doctor will decide on the next management steps, including the frequency of your future Pap tests. Keep in mind that the three year interval does not apply on the routine gynecological examination; after all, Pap test only screens for cervical cancer and not for conditions concerning other structural parts of the female reproductive system e.g. uterus and ovaries.
All that having been said, emphasis should be put on the compliance of women with the proposed screening guidelines. Truth is, Pap test is something that women either love or hate. The female population of countries, where means for a regular screening are available, can be roughly divided into two categories: the women who have come to terms with the idea of repeatedly subjecting themselves to a procedure that might not be the most pleasant thing in the world, but is necessary for their own health, and those who obstinately refuse to recognize the value and benefits of a smear test, mainly because they feel too uncomfortable with the procedure involved. The psychological aspect in this matter is not to be neglected or, worse, frowned upon. The medical community should reach out to women who share such feelings with understanding and patience, so as too ultimately achieve a raise in the percentage of women abiding by the Pap test guidelines.
The first step in the right direction is to massively educate women, even from a young age, about cervical cancer and more importantly about the nature and the exact steps of a Pap test and an HPV test. Despite the popularity of common misconceptions about the applied procedure – it is often said, for example, that it hurts or that it takes too long or that it is humiliating – an effort should be made at setting the record straight. A Pap test, or a pelvic exam for that matter, is not painful or exhausting or humiliating; it is nothing out of the ordinary comparing to the standard, routine check-up you have at your GP’s surgery. The gynecologist first makes sure that you are comfortable, then uses a speculum, an instrument to help him/her see inside your vagina, and then collects some material, containing cervix cells, using a tiny brush and a tiny spatula. The collected material is then applied on a slide or placed inside a bottle containing a special liquid. The HPV test is run using that very same material. The whole thing hardly lasts more than 4-5 minutes. To have a Pap test is not only to go through yet another medical procedure; it is to understand the importance and magnificence of preventive medicine, it is to participate in something that is right and benign, and it also is to open yourself up to new, higher as well as deeper ideas, which make you a smarter and wiser person. It is often supported by medical experts, that the right practicing of medicine demands a patient with a high educational and cultural level and with an even and well-disposed character, who will embrace and respect a doctor’s suggestions and practices. So this is how you should envision yourselves, this is what you must strive to be! And from this, only positive things can result, not only for your bodily but also for your psychological well-being. If you care for some help, then you will find the relative information available on cdc.org extremely useful. So, brace yourselves and go have that test!