Cervical Cancer Awareness Month: Why it is important to get a PAP test done

When it comes to health, not only should a woman prioritise it, but also get herself checked with a doctor from time to time to. These preemptive measures often help in the timely diagnosis of diseases, which can be life-saving!

The month of January is recognised as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and the one test that can warn about potential cancer is PAP test. This is primarily why doctors insist women get it done periodically. Dr Karamjit Kaur, consultant — obstetrician and gynaec — laparoscopic surgeon, Fortis La Femme Hospital, Richmond Road, Bangalore, tells indianexpress.com about the benefits of the test, along with what it really is.

Read on.

What is a PAP test?

PAP test is the abbreviated form of Papanicolaou test. It is a screening test for women to detect potentially-precancerous and cancerous cells in the cervix (opening of the uterus or the womb).

“It is not a method for diagnosing cancer, it is a way of screening apparently healthy and symptom-free women to find out those who need further investigation to see if they have malignancy,” explains the doctor.

Why is it important?

“Of the two most common cancers seen in Indian women, cervical cancer is one; the other is breast cancer. India contributes to about 1/5th of the burden of cervical cancer — nearly 1,00,000 cases annually in the whole world. The sooner a cancer is detected and treatment is initiated, the better will be results.

“We get patients coming in very late because of lack of awareness and neglect. Now the good part is that cervical cancer is very much a potentially preventable disease as it has a long preinvasive state and treatment at this stage is effective. With the help of the PAP test which is readily available, it can be detected early, even before the symptom starts,” says Dr Kaur.

Who should get the test done?

The doctor advises that all sexually-active women between the ages of 21 and 65 years should get it done once every year for three years, and then every three years. “Even women who have been vaccinated against cervical cancer should get the PAP test done.”

The ideal time

“Ideally once the period gets over. In menopausal women, it can can be done any time. Prior to the test, douching should not be done and a day before the test, sexual intercourse should be avoided,” says Dr Kaur.

How is the test done?

It is a simple test done in a clinical setting. No prick is required. A vaginal speculum examination is done and a smear is taken from the cervix and the endocervical canal. The sample is then sent to the lab for cytological evaluation under a microscope to look for abnormal cells. The report is available in a week’s time, says the doctor.

PAP test, along with regular screening and follow-ups, can reduce cervical cancer risk by up to 80 per cent.

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