Why Have A Pap Smear?

Perhaps you're the type of woman who tends to procrastinate about medical exams. Or maybe it's just hard to fit in an appointment to the gynecologist with your busy schedule. You may have thought, "Who needs a Pap smear, anyway?"

Perfect Audience

You're a perfect audience for this article. Here you can find a detailed explanation of what places a woman at risk for generating an abnormal result on her Pap smear. Of course, you can always just ask your physician about your personal risk factors and seek his advice.

Meantime, researchers have managed to piece together a very good picture of what raises a woman's profile for cervical cancer, the main reason for having a Pap smear. Here's a list of risk factors that suggest a higher profile for this cancer:

*HPV—The most significant risk factor for developing cervical cancer is the human Papillomavirus (HPV). This sexually transmitted disease (STD) can cause genital warts. Most women who contract HPV don't get cervical cancer. But in 95%-100% of cervical cancer cases, a link can be found to HPV.


*Smoking—Researchers don't know why, but smoking cigarettes raises your risk for cervical cancer. Smoking increases the risk for cancer of the cervix by 2-4 times.

*Compromised Immune System—Women who have a weakened immune system or who must take medication that weakens the immune system for instance drugs taken to prevent rejection after an organ transplant, have a heightened risk for developing precancerous cells of the cervix.

*DES—If your mother took diethylstilbestrol (DES) when she was pregnant with you, you have a higher risk for developing cervical cancer.

*Multiple Partners—Women who have multiple sexual partners or monogamous women whose husbands play the field have a higher risk for cervical cancer.

*Sexual Activity—Women who became sexually active before the age of 18 have an increased risk for developing cervical cancer.

Here's how the Pap smear is performed:

1) As you lie on your back, your doctor examines the appearance of your vaginal and rectal areas.

2) A speculum is inserted into your vagina enabling the doctor to see your vagina and cervix.

3) Your physician may swab away your cervical mucus if this obscures his view.

4) A very small cervical brush is placed inside the opening of your cervix. The doctor rotates the brush to get a cell sample. This sample contains cells from the inside of the cervix and is called an endocervical sample. "Endo" signifies "inside."

5) The physician then takes a sample from the outer opening of your cervix, called an ectocervical sample. "Ecto" signifies "outside."

6) These two samples are then smeared onto glass slides. A fixative will be applied and the slides packed off to a lab to be evaluated.