Pap Smear Tests
Every women between the ages of 18-69 years of age who have ever been sexually active should have a pap smear (cervical cancer screening) every 2 years. The screening process involves cells from the entrance of the womb (cervix) being brushed off and sent off to a pathology laboratory to be examined under a microscope for any abnormalities.
The procedure is relatively quick and painless, although some minor discomfort may be experienced during the procedure and spotting may occur for a short period of time afterwards. Pap smears maybe carried out by a medical practitioner or a nurse, you will be required to lay on your back with your legs bent and apart for the examination to be carried out. The doctor/nurse will wear examination gloves and insert a lubricated speculum into your vagina. The speculum will help to keep the vaginal canal open during the procedure. Once the speculum is in place, the doctor or nurse will gently remove some cells from your cervix, which will be placed between some sterile slides and sent off to the laboratory for testing. Currently, the original test is still used which involves cells being smeared onto a glass slide and looked at under a microscope. However, there is a newer liquid based test (which is more accurate due to technology when it is processed), but the way the sample is collected is the same. The newer liquid based test is not covered by Medicare and there is a charge billed by the pathology company (approximately $50) for women who want this test. Generally the newer tests are not strictly necessary but women may request it, or their doctor may recommend it under certain circumstances eg in menopausal women in whom it can be difficult to get sufficient cells for a sample.
The laboratory will screen the cells taken from the cervix for abnormalities, in an attempt to detect early signs of pre-cancer and cancer changes in the cells. If your pap smear test results are normal, you will not be required to have another pap smear for 2 years. If there are some abnormalities detected, you may be required to have further testing/screening to ascertain what the abnormalities are. This might include a colposcopy which is another examination of the cervix but using a high powered microscope and possibly a biopsy of more cells. Your health care professional will explain and discuss with you what further testing will be required.
Pap smears are a highly effective method of detecting early signs of cancer and women are strongly encouraged to ensure that they are up to date with their pap smear screening. If abnormalities are detected early, then treatment is provided which usually stops the abnormal cells from developing further. Medical professionals are trained and experienced in carrying out pap smears and colposcopy, so you should not feel embarrassed or anxious about having the procedure carried out, it could save your life!
There are planned changes to the cervical screening programme in Australia due to be phased in in 2017. This will probably involve the use of self taken sample which tests for HPV (the virus which causes cervical cancer) and an increased screening interval (5 yrs instead of 2 yrs) .
More information can be found out about cervical cancer screening on www.csp.nsw.gov.au
Regular breast checks are vital for ALL women as a way to detect any early signs of breast cancer. No matter what your age, once you have developed breasts, you need to ensure that you look after them. An effective method of examining your breasts is to check every few months, preferably a couple of days after your period. By checking your breast at the same time in your menstrual cycle, it allows you to become familiar with how your breasts feel, making it easier to detect possible lumps or abnormalities.
The best methods for examining your breasts are in the shower, laying down or in front of a mirror. It is advisable to download and print the following shower card provided by The Sydney Breast Cancer Foundation http://www.sbcf.org.au/imagesglobal/shower_card.gif to optimally check your breasts. If you wish to take the shower card into the shower, it may be worthwhile laminating it to help keep it waterproof.
If you detect any abnormalities or lumps in your breasts, it is crucial that you seek medical attention and advice as soon as possible. It may be that you require further investigations, such as a mammogram, ultrasound or MRI scan. Finding something new doesn’t mean that a change in breast tissue is sinister, but it will probably be necessary to get more information about any breast change in order to exclude an early cancer.