A pap smear is a medical exam in which the doctor scans for cancer or precancerous cells in the cervix, uterus, and vagina. The procedure consists of a gentle scraping of a group of cells and examined in a lab for abnormalities or signs of cancer. Pap smears are a quite common procedure for women and a necessary measure of preventative health.
A pap smear is necessary to test for cervical cancer and other issues related to the reproductive health of the woman. Additionally, a test for HPV is often conducted while the Pap smear is being completed. HPV or the Human Papillomavirus is commonly linked to the development of cervical cancer. Since HPV is quite common, it is likely that most sexually active adults will contract it sometime in their life. HPV is a general term for a family of viruses, and not all of these viruses cause cervical cancer, however, it is often prudent to be safe and be tested to ensure that the cancer-causing viruses are not present.
Abnormal cells are often categorized into one of three categories. These categories are irregular/atypical precancerous, and cancerous. Irregular cells can merely be a sign of inflammation. This inflammation is most commonly caused by the use of a diaphragm or vaginal infection. If cells are precancerous, the likely sign is that they are at an early stage of growth and could possibly develop into something malignant if not treated, which can be done in the office. If cancerous cells are detected, further testing should be conducted to determine how to combat the cancer.
Depending on the results of the exam, doctors will have a variety of options. If irritation is noted, a doctor can write a script for an anti-inflammatory or steroid medication to reduce the inflammation. If precancerous cells are detected, the doctor will likely need to perform a biopsy of the affected area to determine the course of the spread of mutated cells. Depending on the spread of the pre-cancerous cells, a low-level invasive procedure may be completed to remove the affected area. If the cancer has spread too far, possible removal of the affected organ may take place. This can be very scary to women who are affected by cancer but fortunately, it is very rare for women getting regular pap smears. Women should discuss all medical options with their doctor before making an informed decision about how to proceed.
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