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Pap smear information you need to know
Pap smears are an uncomfortable but necessary reality for women (men really don’t know how good they’ve got it, right?!). There’s a lot of confusing and conflicting information about Pap smears which is why it’s no surprise the topic came up in a recent forum. I saw all the chat among our members and thought I’d take your questions to a gynaecologist. Watch the video above to find out what I discovered after speaking with Dr Andy Stamatiou MBBS FRANZCOG from the City Fertility Centre.
1. How often should women get Pap smears?
Women are advised to have a Papanicolaou (Pap) smear every two years from approximately two years after their sexual debut. They are also advised to continue regular Pap smear screenings until the age of 75. Once a Pap smear is performed in Australia, the woman is added to the relevant Pap smear register in that state. From that point on, she will receive a reminder to repeat her Pap smear every two years. If the woman is no longer at her former address, a reminder is sent to the doctor who last performed her Pap smear.
2. What does a Pap smear test for? Does it include a HPV test?
In simple terms, exfoliated cells from the cervix get caught up in the cervical mucus. A Pap smear is where the cervical mucus is collected using a vaginal speculum and spatula and placed on a slide. The slide is examined under a microscope by a specialist pathologist called a cytologist and the results are verified by a second cytologist. The changes seen in the cells are those caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) which can eventually lead to cervical cancer. The test can detect abnormalities in cervical skin cells and glandular cells.
3. Does a Pap smear also include an STD check?
No, the Pap smear does not test for sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Changes caused by HPV are usually detected on a Pap smear. Other organisms that are sexually transmitted may sometimes be seen on a Pap smear such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea but this is rare. Other non-sexually transmitted conditions may also be detected such as candida and bacterial vaginosis.
When liquid cytology is used as part of the Pap smear, it is easy to add an STD check to the pathology request form. No extra swabs are required. This is usually recommended if women are in a high risk group such as under 25 years old, [have] a new sexual partner or [have] multiple sexual partners.
4. Do you have to get Pap smears if you've never been sexually active?
This question is a little controversial as some would say yes and others no. My personal view is that you don’t need to have Pap smears unless you have been sexually active.
My reasoning is that approximately 98 per cent of cervical cancers are due to HPV. This virus is only known to be transmitted sexually and so will only potentially affect women who have been sexually active. The other 2 per cent of cervical cancers are different types of cancer that are not easily detected on a Pap smear.
5. Do you need to get Pap smears if you've had the cervical cancer vaccine?
Yes, you still need regular Pap smears if you have had the cervical cancer vaccine. There are over 100 known strains of the human papilloma virus. Some have no obvious effect, others are more likely to cause genital warts and many are known to cause cervical cancer. There are 15 strains of HPV that are considered high risk for cervical cancer.
Did you know these facts about Pap smears? What other questions do you have?