Have you had a pap smear? Here's why you shouldn't delay
The death of Trinidad and Tobago national volleyball player Ayanna Dyette has shone a spotlight on the importance of pap smears.
Dyette passed away on July 1 from cervical cancer.
In an interview with a T&T newspaper in her finals days, she urged women to get Pap smears done. The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) says on its site that cervical cancer mortality rates are three times higher in Latin America and the Caribbean than in North America.
A 2013 situational analysis by PAHO said among Caribbean women of all ages, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in terms of incidence and mortality and accounts for 13 per cent of all cancer cases and 10.4 per cent of all cancer deaths.
The importance of a Pap smear cannot be underscored enough when it comes to early cancer detection so if you have ever had one or haven't had one in years, here are some reasons why you need to pick up the phone and call your gynaecologist.
1) Cervical cancer according to PAHO is caused mainly by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common infection, transmitted sexually, therefore, anyone who has had sexual activity, whether vaginal, anal, oral or skin to skin contact, can be infected with HPV. PAHO says most women and men will have an HPV infection during their lifetime, even though they do not know and may not have any signs or symptoms of infection. While HPV infection usually clears on its own with the body’s immune system response, it may persist in some women over 30 and develop into cervical cancer.
2) A Pap smear is a physical exam used to determine the presence of cervical cancer. According to PAHO, the test involves a gynaecological examination by a medical provider, who takes a sample of cells from the cervix. The sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis. The PAP test detects changes in the cervical cells and can identify precancerous or cancerous lesions. PAP test results are usually provided to women, as a normal or abnormal PAP test result.
3) A Pap smear is not painful and does not last long.
4) It is not recommended that you do a Pap smear during your period as it can obscure the exam. One expert says the best time to schedule your Pap smear is 10 to 20 days after the first day of your period.
5) If the test results are negative it is recommended that you do the test again within three to five years or according to your country's guidelines. Women over 30 are asked to do it again in five to ten years as there is a lower chance of them developing cancer, according to PAHO.
6) Abnormal cells do not necessarily mean you have cancer but you would need to discuss the finding with your doctor.
7) As long as you have a cervix, you need to do a Pap smear. Having kids does not protect you from cervical cancer.
8) Pap smears are recommended for women between the ages of 21 and 69.