Six Things Women Should Know About the Pap Test

Style News Wire | 1/8/2009, 5:39 p.m.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center shares important information about ...

M. D. Anderson Shares Important Information on Cervical Cancer Screening

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center shares important information about the cervical cancer screening exam, the Pap test.

For many women, their annual Pap test is not something to look forward to; however, this test has the potential to make a huge difference in the lives of women everywhere. The Pap test detects cell changes, which may cause cervical cancer. If these cell changes are found and treated early, cervical cancer may be prevented.

Andrea Milbourne, M.D., associate professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Gynecologic Oncology, explores six facts women should know about this important test.

1. Increased sexual activity equals increased need for a Pap test.

Increased sexual activity raises a woman’s risk for acquiring the human papilloma virus (HPV). While HPV can be harmless, it also can cause cervical cancer by changing normal cells in the cervix.

“Because condoms do not provide 100 percent protection against HPV, women who are sexually active and not in a monogamous relationship need to be even more vigilant about following cervical cancer screening guidelines,” Milbourne said.

2. The HPV vaccine is a supplement, not a replacement for the Pap test.

Getting the HPV vaccine, or encouraging young female family members to consider it, is a great first step toward cervical cancer prevention. That being said, the vaccine is in no way a substitute for the Pap test.

“The vaccine may give women a false sense of security,” Milbourne said. “And because getting a Pap test is not what most women consider a favorite activity, getting the vaccine might cause them to procrastinate even more to make an appointment for their next Pap test.”

Because the HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV, or other sexually transmitted diseases, it cannot be the only method of cervical cancer prevention. Women also should remember that cervical cancer doesn’t have many visible symptoms, which makes the Pap test significantly important in preventing cervical cancer.

3. Women should prepare for an upcoming Pap test.

Milbourne recommends a few tips to help women prepare for an upcoming test:

• Avoid douching or using vaginal medicines, spermicidal foams, creams or jellies 48 hours before the test.

• Do not have sexual intercourse 48 hours before the test.

• Reschedule a Pap test appointment if an unexpected heavy menstrual flow occurs on the day of the exam.

“Lubricants, spermicides, douching and sexual activity can interfere with the interpretation of Pap test results, potentially leading to incorrectly interpreted results or the need for repeat tests,” Milbourne said.

4. A woman is never too old to get her Pap test.

Of all the benefits that might come with growing older, skipping a regular Pap test for a sexually active woman over age 65 is not one of them.

As female life expectancy gets longer, many women continue to enjoy sexually active lives throughout their sixties and into their seventies.