Every year thousands of women are diagnosed with cervical cancer but still thousands more remain unaware of this deadly disease invading their bodies until it may be too late for treatment. But finding out if you have cervical cancer is only one short doctor’s visit away and one simple test.
Greek physician George Papanicolaou invented the Pap smear in the first half of the 20th century by accident. While working on a genetic experiment involving guinea pigs and their menstrual cycles, he found changes in the sample of vaginal tissue and fluid. He extrapolated this by obtaining samples from a woman who had uterine cancer and comparing them to a woman whom was healthy. When he looked at the two samples, it was clear that you could see the cancerous cells versus the non-infected sample. This led to a quick and simple test developed a few years later that would save thousands of lives and increase our knowledge not only of cancer, but also how to diagnose and treat cancer with even greater speed.
Cervical cancer, like most cancers, do not signal their presence in your body until the cancer is firmly imbedded and actively seeking to destroy healthy tissue. You may feel fine and exhibit no symptoms at all and still be suffering from cervical cancer – it can take up to ten years for this particular type of cancer to exhibit visible symptoms! This is why a yearly Pap smear is vital to maintaining your good health and detecting and destroying cervical cancer as early as possible.
Depending on what your family doctor recommends, a Pap smear is usually suggested for sexually active women over the age of sixteen. Please consult with your doctor to see at what age you should be getting tested, since your family history and your physical health will be a determining factor.
A Pap smear involves taking a small number of cells from both the outside and the inside of your cervix and putting them on a slide to be preserved. The sample is then sent to a laboratory that analyses the swab for evidence of anything that may be unusual. The results are sent back to your doctor or to your gynecologist and then given to you. Often this examination takes only a few minutes and results in little discomfort.
A positive result doesn’t mean that you have cancer, however. What it does mean is that further testing is needed to determine why your sample came back as irregular. This could be from a variety of sources, from STD’s (sexually transmitted diseases) to a bad sample to a very early detection of cervical cancer. Usually if you have one irregular smear your doctor will insist on doing a second one, or you should to avoid the possibility of laboratory error or contamination of the original sample.
Most women avoid getting a Pap smear because of the slight discomfort you may experience after the sample is taken or because of the inconvenience of having to fit a doctor’s visit into their busy schedule. But if cervical cancer is detected early enough, it can be quickly treated and cured, leading to a long and healthy life. Going untreated and undetected, however, can lead to major health problems in the future as most cancers do not make their presence known until it has progressed far past a basic stage.
Getting a Pap smear takes only a few minutes, but it can save your life. From diagnosing early cervical cancer to STD’s to just a simple infection, this fast and easy test should be a regular doctor’s appointment on your yearly calendar.