Cervical cancer used to be the number #1 cause of cancer deaths in women just a few decades ago. Since that time, the Pap smear has become instrumental in lowering these numbers and making cervical cancer detection extremely effective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just over 12,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2011.
Cervical cancer is one of the most treatable female cancers. How much do you know about it?
Myth: If I get cancer there is nothing I can do about it.
Fact: A Pap smear (also called a Pap )test checks for changes in the cervix. If changes are found and treated early, cervical cancer can be prevented. If you do have cancer, regular screening can help find it early. The earlier it is found, the more treatment options you have.
Myth: I am too old or young to get cervical cancer.
Fact: Most women with cervical cancer are 50 years of age or younger. But older women can also get cervical cancer. Pap tests should be part of your routine health care starting at age 21.
Myth: I don’t need a Pap test because no one in my family has had cervical cancer.
Fact: You should still get a Pap test. Most women with cervical cancer don’t have a family history of it.
Getting ready for your Pap test
Sometimes just knowing it’s time for a Pap can feel intimidating. If it’s your first exam, you may be even more concerned about what the test will be like. Let me start out by telling you that a Pap smear is painless. During the exam, your doctor will use a tool called a speculum to spread the vagina open so he or she can see the cervix. Then, using what looks a little bit like a small brush or pipe cleaner on the end of a long swab, your doctor will insert the brush into the opening of the cervix just enough to collect some cells. That’s it. Easy.
Sometimes being nervous can make relaxing hard, but the calmer you can make yourself, the more comfortable the exam will be.
Check out these tips to help you feel more at ease with your exam:
- Try taking deep breaths before and during the exam. Let them out slowly and remember that you are doing something good for your health. Deep breathing can help release tension you may be holding in your pelvis or legs that could make inserting the speculum (a plastic or metal device that opens the vagina) easier.
- Find a doctor you feel comfortable with. Your Pap smear doesn’t have to be completed by your family doctor, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be done by a gynecologist or vice versa. If you have a skilled doctor that you like who is proficient at the Pap test, by all means see him or her.
- Talk to your doctor. If this is your first Pap test, ask questions about what the test is like and what you should expect. Find out if your doctor will be doing other screening procedures like a clinical breast exam or pelvic exam at the same time. This can help you be better prepared for your appointment. He or she should be willing to explain every step they are taking during the test.
Never be afraid to take the time to prevent illness. Pap smears are a basic and essential step every woman should be taking to make sure they are as healthy as possible. Contact us today to schedule your Pap test.