In other words, the Pap test is really designed only to detect cervical cancer?That is correct. Regular Pap smears help make cervical cancer a preventable disease. Since cells from the cervix are continually being sloughed off into the normal discharge from the cervix and vagina, the Pap smear makes it possible for most cervical cancer to be detected before it has had an opportunity to invade or spread. The use of the Pap smear has helped to drop the death rate for women with cervical cancer by 60 percent in the last 30 years.
Is it painful to have a Pap smear?No. There is little or no discomfort and most doctors include it as a part of the regular pelvic examination. It is a good idea for all women over the age of 20 and most especially for women of menopausal age to have regular Pap smears. If you have a special, high risk situation, your physician may require a smear to be taken more often than once a year.
How can I be sure I'm getting an accurate Pap smear?The accuracy of your Pap smear depends on the quality of the laboratory interpreting the glass slide which is sent by the doctor and so it is important to have a doctor who is fussy about the lab he uses.
However, women themselves can ensure a more accurate reading if they follow these suggestions:
• Don't douche for at least 3 days before your Pap test. If you do, there won't be enough loose cells in your vaginal fluid for an accurate test.
• Use shower instead of tub bath for at least 48 hours before the test.
• Don't use tampons or birth control foams or jellies for 5 days before your appointment.
• Try to arrange your appointment between days 15 and 20 of your menstrual cycle.