Pap smears: Your best weapon against cervical cancer
It’s an unfortunate fact that Kentucky has one of the highest cervical cancer death rates in the country. The good news is many of these deaths are preventable through regular screenings called Pap smears.
Pap smears collect cells from the cervix, which are examined under a microscope to find cancer and pre-cancer. If pre-cancer is found, it can be more easily treated, stopping cervical cancer before it really starts.
There are no obvious symptoms of cervical cancer until it reaches advanced stages, so having regular Pap smears is important. Federal guidelines recommend women ages 21 (or three years after first intercourse) to 65 have a Pap smear every three years during their annual pelvic exam. Individual circumstances can vary, so talk to your doctor about how often you should have a Pap smear.
Ways to improve test results
According to the American Cancer Society, there are several ways to make your Pap smear results more accurate:
- Try not to schedule an appointment for a time during your menstrual period. The best time is at least five days after your menstrual period stops.
- Don’t use tampons, birth-control foams or jellies, other vaginal creams, moisturizers or lubricants, or vaginal medicines for two to three days before the Pap test.
- Don’t douche for two to three days before the Pap test.
- Don’t have vaginal sex for two days before the Pap test.
Check with your doctor
Because Pap smears are often done during pelvic exams, many people confuse the two. The pelvic exam is part of a woman’s routine checkup that may help find other types of cancers and reproductive problems. During a pelvic exam, the doctor examines the reproductive organs, including the uterus and the ovaries, and may do tests for sexually transmitted disease.
Be sure to check with your doctor to see if you had a Pap smear during your pelvic exam.
- Watch a video featuring UK Markey Cancer Center gynecologic oncologist Dr. Rachel Miller to learn more about Pap smears and cervical cancer prevention.
- The experts on Markey’s gynecologic oncology team provide personalized care for patients with cancer as well as early detection and screening programs.