Pap Smear Procedure – Why it’s Important to Have Yours Done Regularly

My name is Fatima Parker and I am a doctor in Draper Square , Claremont, Cape Town. My special interests are in mental health as well as female health, however, I am a general practitioner who qualified at UCT  (University of Cape Town in 1998)

The Importance of Regular Pap Smears

A papsmear is done to test for abnormal cells in the cervix before it becomes cancerous. These abnormalities are in most cases caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which can be a precursor to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is one of the commonest cancer in woman in Africa.

HPV is contracted during sexual contact with someone who already has the virus. HPV is also what causes genital warts. Often the male partner is asymptomatic for HPV i.e. has no symptoms of the virus.

Having regular pap smears done according to the individualised guidelines I provide; we can detect these changes early enough to avoid the development of cervical cancer.

In some cases, the HPV may be eliminated from body naturally within 2 years, without causing any of the above-mentioned complications.

Although there are several treatment options for cervical cancer, they are most effective when detected early or in the precancer stage. Therefore, regular pap smears are crucial.

How is a Pap Smear Done?

An instrument called a speculum is used to open the vaginal canal in order to see the cervix.

Then a soft brush  is used to gently scrape the cervix in order to collect a sample. This procedure is quick and painless. The cervix is located at the top of the vaginal canal and is the lower, narrow end of the uterus.

Does a Pap Smear Hurt?

Although discomfort may be experienced by some, others have reported that the procedure was quick, easy and painless. Discomfort can occur when the speculum is inserted in the vagina. Although most woman are naturally tense at their first pap smear experience if they try to relax and not be tense the discomfort is significantly reduced and procedure quite quick usually a few minutes.

When to Have a Pap Smear?

Guidelines  recommend that women should start getting tested from the age of 21 or within 3 years of being sexually active. Women between the ages of 21 and 30 should have a pap smear every 3 years, as long there are  no abnormalities in their most recent test.

Women between 30 and 65 years can get tested every 1 to 3 years, if there are no irregularities in their previous test.

HIV postive woman should have yearly papsmears.

In addition, I can also perform a separate HPV test alongside the Pap Smear. This will test for HPV strains 16, 18 and other high risk strains linked to cervical cancer. If these HPV strains are negative a vaccine against these HPV strains will be recommended to prevent possible future infections with these high risk cancer strains.

After the age of 65 years, pap smears are less necessary but might still be needed in some woman. I can advise when and if pap smears are necessary.

How to Prepare for a Pap Smear

Avoid the following for at least 2 days before your test:

  • Vaginal douching
  • Vaginal medicines such as ovules or pessaries
  • Sexual intercourse
  • The use of spermicidal foams
  • Vaginal gels or creams

Furthermore, avoid scheduling a pap smear during your menstrual cycle, as this may make the sample collection more challenging, resulting in inaccurate test results.

Pap Smear Test Results

Normal results mean that the cervical cells are normal and further treatment, testing or investigation is not necessary until the next pap smear is done.

Abnormal test results mean that abnormal cells were discovered and the appropriate treatment is chosen according to what type of abnormality is present. However, abnormal results do not automatically mean that cervical cancer is present.

Dr. Fatima Parker – Your Doctor in Claremont

Should your pap smear produce abnormal results, I will advise if you need another pap smear in 6 months time after the abnormal test or refer to gynecologist if necessary. Sometimes common  fungal and bacterial infections are seen on the pap smear test which can be easily treated.

Papsmears are performed by most gps and don’t need to see a specialist gynaecologist to have this test done.

I have many years experience performing papsmears and patients can make an appointment to see me in my new rooms at Unit 9 Draper Square, Claremont. To book an appointment call the rooms at 0216831232 or email