Nearly 300 Singaporean women and 2000 Malaysian women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year. In Conjunction with The Women’s Gynaecological Awareness Month (WGCAM) Campaign 2016, we want to share a test that could potentially save your life: The Pap Smear Test.
First of all, what is the cervix?
The cervix is the neck of the womb, that opens into the vagina. Cervical cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the cervix, which in turn are able to cause damage to other parts of the body. Left untreated, these cancer cells can metastasize to the vagina and into deeper layers of the tissues.
The Pap Smear Test
The Pap Smear Test detects Cervical Cancer or abnormal pre-cancerous cell growth. It particularly detects cell changes caused by viruses such as the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) types 16 and 18 that are the primary cause of Cervical Cancer. Taking this test at regular intervals lessens the Cervical Cancer rate and mortality by 80% through early detection, giving treatment a chance to be successful before it gets too serious.
Who should take the Test?
Cervical Cancer is the 2nd and 10th most common cancer among women in Malaysia and Singapore respectively. If you fit into these age ranges, it is highly recommended you take the test:
- Women above the age of 25 and sexually active (One test every 3 years)
- Women above the age of 30 (if you have three normal PAP test results in a row, you can take the test once every 5 years)
HIV positive patients and those with weak immune systems due to organ transplants or chemotherapy might have to screen for viruses more often due to their weakened state. On the other hand, women above 65 may be able to stop the tests if they have a history of normal test results.
What the Test Involves
You will need to make an appointment with your local clinic with the specified intention of doing a Pap Smear Test. The procedure is relatively painless and quick but may be uncomfortable. The doctor will ask you to lie down on the examination table with your legs spread and in stirrups. A Speculum will then be inserted into your vagina to keep access to the cervix open and a spatula will be used to scrape cells from the cervix. It is normal to experience slight bleeding but if the bleeding is excessive, do consult your Doctor.
Women should not book a pap smear during their menstrual cycle as it may skew the results due to shedding of blood cells. Appointments can be made 14 days after your period begins. Also, avoid sexual intercourse, douching, using spermicidal products or using vaginal creams 48hours before the test.
Results of the Test
The results given will be either Normal or Abnormal. A Normal Test means there is no need for another test for the next 3 years. While this is accurate, it is possible for the test to fail to detect abnormal cell growth. Yet, most of the time this abnormal cell growth is slow growing and with consistent testing, will be detected before the problem is too big. Do look out for symptoms such as unusual, foul-smelling vaginal discharge or non-period related bleeding.
An Abnormal Test result does not mean you have cancer, but there are pre-cancerous abnormal cell growth in your cervix. To confirm diagnosis, the following tests may be conducted:
- Colposcopy (A low powered microscope and a light is used to further examine the cervix and a biopsy is taken)
- Punch Biopsy (Biopsy of cervical cells taken and screened under a microscope)
- Cone Biopsy (Conical shape area of cervical cells are removed and biopsied)
Early stages of cervical cancer can be treated easily, with high success rates. Treatments include: Laser Vaporization, Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) and Cone Biopsy with laser, diathermy or knife. However, more extensive treatment like chemotherapy, radiation therapy and radical hysterectomy would be required if the cancer has spread deeper into the cervix.
The possibility of putting yourself through all the physical, and not to mention emotional distress can be easily reduced by going for regular pap smears! As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.
For the month of July, as part of The Women’s Gynaecological Awareness Month (WGCAM) Campaign 2016, HealthConnexion @ Farrer Park Hospital and iCARE Medical and Wellness Clinic are offering free Pap Smear Tests for eligible woman.
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