The Cervical Screening Tests replaced the pap smear test in Australia test in December 2017. This test involves having a pelvic examination which is able to detect pre-cancerous or abnormal cells in the cervix. Screening tests should be performed every 5 years for those aged between 25 and 74 or if you have ever been sexually active and are under the age of 25.
This test may indicate the presence of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV); which is commonly linked to cervical cancer, along with abnormal cervical cells. Regular screening is important, as they identify changes in cervical cells, which can be early indicators for the presence of pre-cancerous or cancerous cells and the test should be undertaken even if you have had an HPV vaccine.
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and early detection of cervical cancer allows for a greater chance of treating it.
Preparation for the Exam
Before your exam, you are generally encouraged to avoid the use of feminine hygiene products such as vaginal washes and douches, which may wash away or obscure precancerous cells. Similarly, engaging in sexual intercourse before an exam and using spermicides may affect the appearance of the cells under the microscope. If you are menstruating during the time of your exam, precancerous cells may also be harder to detect so schedule your appointment for a time when you are not menstruating.
What to Expect?
Cervical screening tests or pap smears can be a little uncomfortable but only take a minute to perform. For the physical vaginal examination, your doctor or gynaecologist will most likely ask you to remove your clothing from the waist down and lie on an examination bed. You will be asked to bend your legs and spread them apart or your legs may be elevated in stirrups. The doctor will then insert a speculum into the vagina to hold the vaginal walls open. This can give a feeling of pressure on the pelvic area. A tiny brush will then be inserted into the vagina to gently collect cells from the surface of the cervix.
The collected cells will be sent to a lab for examination under a microscope, where abnormal cells can be identified. The cells will also be tested for HPV infection.
Following your exam, you can return to your normal routine and your doctor will contact you if abnormal cells are detected. If this is the case, further testing may be needed to rule out the presence of cancer or to treat precancerous cells.
Important Information to Consider
When filling out the paperwork before your exam, it is essential to be as honest as you can in answering the questions. The questions are used to screen you for risk factors not related to the test specimen collected as some people carry greater risk factors for cervical cancer; which are not linked to HPV or any other sexually transmitted diseases. These risk factors may include; a history of smoking, HIV infection, or previous abnormal Pap smear test results.
A common myth around cervical screening tests and Pap smears is that those who have previously had a hysterectomy no longer need to be tested. It is important to note that not all hysterectomies are performed in the same way or for the same reason so consult your gynaecologist to determine if it is okay for you to stop being tested.