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Pap Tests


A pap test, or pap smear is a simple procedure to assist with the early diagnosis of cervical cancer.



Cervical cancer
Cervical cancer is a malignant tumour found in the cells of the cervix. It occurs when abnormal cells in the cervix turn in to cancer cells.


The cervix is an organ shaped like a neck or column between the lower part of the uterus and the top of the vagina. Its primary role is to protect the uterus from damage or infection. It also holds a growing baby in the uterus, opens to allow the baby to be delivered, and produces moisture to lubricate the vagina.


The most common cause for cervical cancer is the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus which has no symptoms. In most women, it is fought off quickly by the immune system and no further treatment is required. There is now a vaccination available to prevent against HPV. Smoking and diethylstilbestrol, an oestrogen-based medication which was prescribed to women in the 1950’s to 1970’s also have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.


Rates of cervical cancer have halved since the National Cervical Cancer Screening program began advising women to have regular pap tests.



Prevention of cervical cancer
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to have regular pap tests, and if you smoke, quit. However, it is also wise to keep an eye out for the following symptoms:

  • Pain during intercourse,
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods or after menopause,
  • Excessive tiredness,
  • Leg swelling or pain, and
  • Lower back pain.


If you have any of these symptoms, speak to your local Health Care Professional.



What is a pap test?
It is recommended that every woman who has had sexual intercourse should have a pap test every second year. The test is named after Dr Papanicolaou who discovered that the cells in the cervix change in appearance before they become cancerous. Pap tests can be performed quickly and easily by your local doctor. The doctor will use a brush or spatula to scrape some cells off your cervix, and then sends them to a laboratory for examination under a microscope.


A pap test does not directly diagnose cancer. If your cells are abnormal, you may just require more frequent pap tests to continue to monitor the cells, or some further testing to determine the cause of the abnormal cells. Abnormal cells are not always a result of cancer.


For more information about pap tests, speak to your local Health Care Professional.



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