Cervical cancer can be cured—if it is detected early. However, like most cancers, cervical cancer often has no visible symptoms in its early stages. Therefore a pap smear is needed to detect it.
What Happens during a Pap Smear?
Do not schedule your pap smear during your menstrual period. Ideally, your exam should occur two weeks after the first day of your last period. Also, for at least three days before your exam, do not douche, use tampons or any vaginal medications or contraceptives or your pap smear could be inaccurate.
During a pap smear, you will lie on the exam table, and your physician will insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina to widen it. Next, your physician will gently scrape cell tissue from the cervix with a long cotton swab, or a small brush and spatula. The entire process typically takes less than five minute.
You may feel some pressure, but it should not hurt. If you are uncomfortable, it can help to take slow, deep breaths and relax your stomach and vaginal muscles. After the pap smear, your physician will send the tissue to the lab to check for abnormal cells that could indicate or lead to cervical cancer.
What Do the Test Results Mean?
If your pap smear results show abnormal cells, your physician may recommend a biopsy. They may also schedule a colposcopy for you, which is an exam that allows your physician to have a magnified view of the cervix. Biopsies can also be done at the same time as the colposcopy.
If your biopsy comes back positive for cancer, other tests such as blood tests, x-rays and CT scans may also be performed before treatment begins.
Variety of Treatment Options
Abnormal cells can be treated in a variety of ways, such as freezing, treating with a laser, using a scalpel or by using a wire loop called a LEEP. If the cancer is more advanced, it may be treated with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.