A cervical smear is a screening test that helps a doctor diagnose and prevent cervical cancer in women. This test is also known as a cervical pap smear test or simply, a pap test.
In this procedure, the patient is usually asked to lie on her back with her legs raised up on stirrups. Once the patient is in a comfortable position, an instrument called a speculum is inserted into the vagina to keep it open. This helps the doctor to visually examine the cervix for abnormalities. After a visual examination, an instrument called a spatula is used to scrape cells away from the cervix. The spatula is usually a wooden or plastic instrument, which may look like a popsicle stick or like a small brush. Cells from the surface of the cervix are collected on the spatula, and the spatula is then smeared onto a glass slide. The glass slide is carefully sent to a cytology center for a detailed analysis of the collected cells.
The individual needs to avoid douching the vagina, having sexual intercourse, taking a tub bath, or using a tampon at least 24 hours prior to the test. It is also best to avoid scheduling the test during menstrual periods, as the blood cells in the uterus may affect the readings. The results of a cervical smear test can either be abnormal or normal. An abnormal cervical smear is normally classified into three categories called the ASCUS, LSIL/HSIL and cancerous.
ASCUS indicates a mild abnormality in the result and shows that there is no immediate risk of cervical cancer. Patients who have a slight infection or cervical inflammation may show this result. A repeat test after in a span of around 4 to 6 months is required.
Dysplasia basically means cell malformation. A low-grade dysplasia indicates the start of a pre-cancerous condition and a high-grade dysplasia indicates that the individual may be very close to getting a cervical cancer.
If the results fall into this category, it means that the cells are cancerous. Cancerous cells can be invasive and non-invasive. Non-invasive cancerous cells do not spread to the rest of the body, whereas invasive cancerous cells can quickly spread across the rest of the body.
There are some drugs that affect the pap smear reading, and it is important that the doctor is informed about the patients current medical status before the test is performed. Women who are sexually active are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer, and a frequent cervical test can certainly help to avoid and cure this most common cancer that occurs in women.