Cervical cancer ranks high in the list of most common cancers among women in Singapore, with around 300 women being diagnosed with the condition every year. The infection comes from the strain of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which can be passed from one infected person to another via sexual contact. As the HPV ravages the cells in the cervix, it can take years before cancer symptoms develop and become apparent. But this can be prevented if there is early medical intervention. A Pap smear test in CBD can detect the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix. Every woman should have a routine Pap smear as part of a preventative healthcare plan. Read on to learn more about cervical cancer, its signs and symptoms, and how a Pap smear screening test can potentially prevent all of that.
HPV and cervical cancer
HPV affects is a very common virus that affects men and women. Currently, there are around 100 known types of HPV that affect various parts and organs of the human body. HPVs are so prevalent that an estimated eight out of ten people are likely to acquire an infection at some point in their lives. And the horror does not stop there- what’s worrisome is the fact that almost all cases of cervical cancer are linked to an HPV infection.
The outlook may be bad but there is a silver lining – cervical cancer is one of the most preventable and curable cancers today. When detected and treated early via routine screening, the chances of making a full recovery are high.
Pap smear defined
A Pap (Papanicolaou) smear, also known as a Pap test, is a standard screening procedure that detects abnormal cell growths in a woman’s cervix. The procedure involves the use of a tool called speculum. The speculum is gently inserted into the vagina to get tissue samples from the cervix. Most patients find the process quite uncomfortable and relatively painless. Afterwards, the samples are sent to the laboratory and reviewed under a microscope for early signs of abnormal changes.
Pap smear is considered a good screening test, but it is not 100% foolproof. In some rare cases, normal results are shown after the test even though there are abnormalities on the cervix. Fortunately, most pre-cancer growths take a long time to develop, so it is a good idea to get a pap test regularly to make sure that cell abnormalities are detected before they progress into cancerous growths.
Ideal age for getting a Pap smear in Singapore
If you are a female over twenty-five years old and have engaged in sexual intercourse, your doctor will recommend that you undergo a Pap smear screening test. You should also schedule one if you have not been screened for the past three years and continue to do so every three years until you are 65 years old. Depending on the doctor’s recommendation, you might also need to undergo the test more often.
Pap smear and detecting STDs
The answer is no – your Pap smear results will not determine if you have STDs; you will need other tests for that. A Pap smear only looks for abnormalities in cervical cells. Some doctors may recommend that the cells collected during a Pap smear be tested for HPV. If your Pap smear shows abnormal results, it is best if you undergo a separate HPV testing to determine whether you have STDs or not.
Candidates for a Pap smear in Singapore
One of the criteria to undergo a Pap smear screening test is having had sexual intercourse or being sexually active, so it is only natural to ask if you still need one if you have not had sex yet or are not sexually active. In both scenarios, the risk of developing cervical cancer is significantly low, but your doctor will tell you that there are still other risk factors that may contribute to developing cervical cancer (e.g., smoking and family history). Better safe than sorry, right?
Preparing for a Pap smear
The ideal time for a Pap smear is two weeks post-menstrual period or about a week before the next menstrual period commences. Two days (48 hours) before the schedule of your procedure, you should refrain from having sexual intercourse, douching, swimming, or soaking in a tub. Products such as tampons, vaginal medications and creams, lubricants, and spermicides should be avoided as well to prevent contamination of cervical cells and irritation to the cervix.
During a Pap smear procedure
Your doctor will ask you a series of questions about your reproductive and sexual health before the procedure. After the health interview, you will be transferred to a private room where you will remove your undergarments and change into a medical gown. You will be asked to lie on your back on the exam table while the doctor perform the procedure. Aside from collecting samples using a lubricated speculum, the doctor will also check the genital area for physical signs of swelling or inflammation. Once the cells are collected, it will be sent to the laboratory for further examination. It may take four to six weeks for the Pap smear results to be available.
What will happen is I get abnormal Pap smear results?
An abnormal Pap smear result does not necessarily mean that you have cervical cancer, so there is no need to panic or freak out. Abnormal results simply mean that there are abnormal cells in your cervix, which need further evaluation by your doctor. Sometimes these abnormal cells are from an infection, or it may be caused by the thinning of the cervix lining due to menopause.
If the result of the test is abnormal, there are several options that your doctor will discuss. They may advise you to undergo a repeat Pap smear test after a certain period of time (after one year instead of every three years). Your doctor may suggest an HPV test, especially if they think that the abnormal cells are caused by an HPV infection. And lastly, a colposcopy and/or a biopsy may also be necessary to check for cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), a precancerous condition. The latter can help determine the CIN’s severity.
The Health Advisory Clinic
#04-49 One Raffles Place
1 Raffles Place, Singapore 048616
+65 6226 6442