Health exams are vital for women of all ages. Scheduling regular wellness visits even when you are in excellent health is the cornerstone of preventative care. Many diseases cause no symptoms until they reach an advanced stage, and cervical cancer is no exception.
All women are at risk of cervical cancer. Doctors diagnose more than 13,000 new cervical cancer cases each year, and roughly 4,000 women die from the disease annually. Fortunately, getting routine Pap smears reduces your chances of dying from cervical cancer.
What is a Pap smear, and who needs one?
A Pap smear is a quick, painless procedure that checks for cervical cancer and abnormal changes to cervical cells that are likely to become cancer. It is recommended that women start getting routine Pap smears at age 21 and schedule them every 3-5 years, depending on factors your doctor will discuss with you.
How is a Pap smear performed?
During a Pap smear, your health care provider collects cells from your service to send to the lab. To obtain the cells, the doctor gently places a speculum into the vagina to access and scrape cells from the vagina and cervix.
The procedure is fast, and you lie comfortably on the table for the duration. At the lab, the cells are examined under a microscope. Your provider will discuss the results with you.
How do Pap smears save lives?
Pap smears are the most effective method of detecting cervical cancer. In fact, not only can Pap smears detect cervical cancer at its earliest stages, it can identify high-risk cell changes that raise the chances of developing into cancer in the future.
Cervical cancer rarely causes symptoms during the initial stages. This makes routine Pap smear a vital part of preventing death from cervical cancer. Like other cancers, cervical cancer has a much higher survival rate when caught early as it is easier to treat.
What happens if my Pap smear is abnormal?
It is perfectly normal to feel anxious about your Pap smear results. Rest assured that it is quite common to have an abnormal Pap smear and that having an abnormal result does not mean that you have or will get cervical cancer. Most women with an abnormal Pap smear do not have cervical cancer.
Understanding abnormal Pap smear results
A positive Pap smear result means that your doctor found some abnormal cells. Keep in mind that this does not mean that you have cancer. Human Papillomavirus – the most common sexually transmitted disease – is a common cause of abnormal Pap smears. However, changes to cervical cells are graded based on their risk. Some changes are very low-risk and don’t carry high chances of developing into cancer.
High-risk changes to cervical cells mean that you are at significant risk of developing cervical cancer in the future. When this is the case, Dr. Singh will refer you for a colposcopy procedure to get a closer look at the abnormal cells. If relevant, Dr. Singh will discuss treatment options to remove the abnormal cells.
Cervical cancer detected by Pap tests has a 92% cure rate, according to available data. Early detections mean a better outcome. Testing early and regularly is the best way to prevent cervical cancer.
If it is time for your regular well-woman visit or if you have questions or are concerned about cervical cancer, top internal medicine physician and women’s health specialist, Pabhdeep Singh, MD is here to help.
With over two decades of experience, Dr. Singh is dedicated to helping men, women, and teens maintain health. Contact our El Centro, California office at 760-208-1338 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Singh. You can also book online at your convenience.