Ladies, some of you might have heard of a pap smear or have even undergone one, while some might be hearing of this for the first time. For the benefit of those who don’t know and for clarification purposes let’s answer these questions about pap smears.

Hmm…what is a pap smear?

The Papanicolaou test (pap test/pap smear) is a screening procedure for cervical cancer.

Why should I get one?

The test detects the presence of potentially pre-cancerous and cancerous cells in the cervix. This is important for prevention and early diagnosis of any medical complications. After one undergoes screening the doctor will prescribe the necessary treatment if any abnormalities are detected.

Should all ladies get the test?

The pap smear is highly recommended for all women considered to be of reproductive age, that is, between the ages of 15-49 years and who are sexually active.

What if I’m a virgin, should I still get tested?

Yes, you may still get tested. This is because there are other risk factors for developing cervical cancer, such as family history and smoking which are not dependent on one’s sexual history.

How often should I get tested?

This is dependent on one’s age. For those between the ages of 20-29 it is advised for one to get tested every three years. Ladies who are aged 30-64 have two options: they may continue to test every three years as with the younger group or they may do combination testing for cervical cancer and HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). This is tested after every five years. Ladies over the age of 65 who have been testing and are healthy no longer need to test.

Okay. I want to test, what is the procedure?

The doctor will begin your examination by asking about your sexual history. Then, they will carry out a physical examination of your pelvic area. This involves insertion of a small instrument called a speculum into the cervix to open up the vagina. They then proceed to retrieve a sample of mucus and cells from the cervix which they will send to a lab for analysis.

Is it painful?

No, it is not. One will only experience slight discomfort when the speculum is inserted.

I want to get tested. Where do I go?

In Kenya one may visit a nearby government or private hospital, a sexual and reproductive health facility or alternatively one may visit a cancer related NGO who offers cancer support and services.

We shall provide a more elaborate list in an upcoming post.