What is a Pap smear?
A smear is a procedure carried out by a healthcare professional to remove superficial cells, or a specific liquid, by lightly rubbing with a small brush, spatula or special cotton swab. The sample is then placed on a glass slide for microscopic examination to detect any abnormalities.
Different types of smear?
There are different types of smears:
Cytological smears are used to observe cell morphology.
Microbiological smears to detect the presence of markers, bacteria or viruses
Gynaecological smears are quite common and there are several types:
Cervico-uterine smear: this involves taking a sample of cells from the cervix in order to observe their appearance and detect possible cancer or precancerous lesions.
Vaginal sampling: involves taking cells from the vagina to study the microbial flora and look for the presence of infections.
Blood, urine and anal smears are also available.
What are the benefits of smear tests?
Here, we focus in particular on the cervico-uterine smear test, which is essential to prevent advanced stages of cervical cancer caused by the human papilloma virus l. In fact, this cancer is a silent disease, sometimes causing no symptoms for many years, and developing very slowly in the body l. Yet it is the second most common cause of cancer in women worldwide. That's why it's so important to have a Pap smear.
At what age should you have your first smear, and how often afterwards?
Then, according to the Institut National du Cancer, cervical cancer screening is recommended from the age of 25 (although there is a risk from first intercourse), then the following year, and then every 3 years until the age of 65.
Nevertheless, the presence of certain abnormal results or exposure to infections will necessitate more frequent smear tests.
How to prepare for a smear test
It is advisable to avoid having sexual relations 48 hours before a gynecological appointment. What's more, it cannot be carried out during periods or if you are bleeding, so it is advisable to book an appointment around the middle of your cycle. Nor can it be carried out if you are suffering from a local infection, or after using local ova or cream. You should therefore wait about 4 weeks after treatment of an infection before taking a smear. Nor should you perform intimate cleansing before a smear test.
All these recommendations are very important, as they enable the healthcare professional to carry out a smear test under the best possible conditions. In fact, 30 to 60% of false-negatives are due to incorrect sampling, which leads to poor-quality results.
Who can perform the test?
A Pap smear is a medical procedure that must be prescribed by a healthcare professional. It should be noted that the sample must be taken with your consent, and that you have the right to accept or refuse it.
As for s'cervico-uterine smears or vaginal swabs, they can be carried out by a gynecologist as part of a "routine check-up", or in the event of specific symptoms. But they can also be carried out by your GP, a midwife or a biologist from a medical analysis laboratory.
How does the exam work?
Pap smears are a fairly quick examination: the practitioner places you in the gynaecological position, then inserts a speculum into your vagina to spread the vaginal walls so that a cotton bud, small spatula or brush can be inserted to collect cells. Then, as explained above, the samples are placed on a glass slide with a dye and sent to the laboratory for analysis.
Smear tests are usually preceded or followed by an interview.
Most of the time, this examination is painless, although some pain may be felt, depending on the patient.
What's more, a small amount of bleeding may occur after a smear test, mainly as a result of "scraping". You can therefore wear a period pants to avoid any inconvenience after the examination.
The results are obtained after approximately 3 weeks, and are communicated to the patient. If an abnormality is detected, the doctor may prescribe further tests.