Don’t fear your pap smear: 3 compelling reasons why all women should get one

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Find out how and why one simple test can save the lives of many. Mums, this is a must-read article...

pap smear

The discomfort of getting a Pap smear is insignificant when compared to the risk of cervical cancer.

We know and understand, ladies: a speculum looks like a torture device and the thought of a stranger examining your vagina is off-putting, to say the least. But if these are the main reasons why you have been delaying that Pap smear, you might need to think again.

After all, following the introduction of Pap smears in Singapore, the incidence rate of cervical cancer has decreased from 18 women per 100,000 per year in the period 1968-1972 to 6.9 women per 100,000 per year in the period 2009-2013, according to the Singapore Cancer Society.  But that’s still 6.9 women too many.

Here are three compelling reasons you and other women close to you should get a Pap smear done.

1. It is life saving

Did you know that cervical cancer is the tenth most common cancer among Singaporean women and is the eighth most common killer among cancers of women in our country?

What is cervical cancer? 
The cervix is part of a woman’s reproductive tract, and is located in the lower part of the womb. Dr. Cheryl Kam, a family physician with Complete Healthcare International, explains that cells from this area of the body undergo constant change with a woman’s monthly cycle and, as a result, are prone to abnormal growths. Sometimes, these abnormal growths are diagnosed as cervical cancer.

pap smear

The HPV virus may lead to cervical cancer

What causes cervical cancer? 
It has been found that chronic infection with a virus called Human Papillomavirus (HPV) leads to cervical cancer.  HPV is found in most sexually active adults and is easily cleared by the immune system most of the time.

Dr. Kam explains that in some cases, though, the body does not clear this infection on its own, resulting in chronic infection.  There are no symptoms for this infection, nor is there a treatment, but it is known to lead to higher risk of cervical cancer.

Other risk factors such as smoking can increase a woman’s chances of cervical cancer. The Mayo Clinic adds that having many sexual partners, early sexual activity, other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and a weak immune system are also risk factors for cervical cancer.

There is a new test that can be done at the same time as a Pap smear, which will detect if you have a current HPV infection.  If the pap smear is normal but there is a concurrent HPV infection, your doctor will arrange a more detailed camera test to look at the cervix.

On the other hand, if the HPV test is negative along with a normal Pap smear, you need not do a Pap smear for another five years. There is also a three-dose vaccine against the HPV virus that you could talk to your doctor about, says Dr Kam.

So what exactly is a Pap smear? Does it hurt? Find out on the next page.