Pap smears are completed through routine vaginal exams. In Canada, a Pap test is the most effective and recommended screening test for cervical cancer. In B.C., it is recommended women aged 25-69 be screened every 3 years.
A Pap test is a procedure that removes a small sample of cells from the cervix. It is done to look for changes to the cells in the cervix.
Why a Pap test is done?
A Pap test is mainly used to:
- screen for and help diagnose precancerous conditions of the cervix and cervical cancer
- help diagnose precancerous conditions of the vagina and vaginal cancer
- diagnose infection and inflammation in the lower female reproductive tract
- follow up after an abnormal Pap test or to monitor precancerous conditions
- check for abnormal cell changes or to see if cancer comes back (recurs) after treatment
Maintaining proper vaginal health aids to prevent irregular pap tests and decreases chances of cervical abnormalities. Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are linked with decreased fertility, cancers, and systemic disease. A healthy vaginal is free from STIs, yeast and bacteria vaginosis. Adequate healthy microflora in the vagina will aid in proper vaginal health. STI testing, regular paps, yeast and dysbiosis tests should be completed routinely to ensure good vaginal health.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Canada and worldwide.
HPV causes almost all cervical cancers but is also linked to cancer of the throat, oral cavity, penis, anus, vagina or vulva.
With an inactive infection, the cells of the cervix appear normal under a microscope during a Pap test and the woman may never know she was infected. With an active infection, the cervical cells undergo a change. An active infection can follow one of two courses:
-The abnormal cells become normal again and the infection is inactive or cleared from your body by your immune system. However, it is possible that an inactive infection can become active again, for reasons that aren’t clearly understood.
-The abnormal cells may slowly progress to cervical cancer.
HPV DNA testing is available in Canada but access varies across the country and is not often part of a woman’s regular check-up or Pap test. It is not covered by BC provincial health plan, and patients have to pay for HPV testing.
Link to HPV BlogHPV testing for Cervical cancer screening.
STD stands for sexually transmitted disease. STD or STI?
The term STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) is now commonly used in the place of STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease). STI is more encompassing, including infections that may be asymptomatic.
There are many types of STIs, including:
- Genital Herpes
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
STI testing is done through blood tests and/or vaginal swabs.