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While your husband may know that you get a PAP test every couple of years, does he know why they are important? Does he know what a PAP test is?
If you're a woman who hates the prospect of regular PAP testing, you're in the majority. The procedure is uncomfortably intimate, but essential for your long-term health.
"From the embarrassment of baring your bottom half to the discomfort of the examination itself, as much as we may all dread the experience, it is generally over in a couple of minutes and is infinitely less horrible than having cervical cancer," states Drkate.co.
Whether you are a woman needing a resource to help you discuss PAP tests with your husband, or you are a husband wanting to know what to expect when your wife gets a PAP test, the following information is a crash course on this important exam.
What is a PAP test?
When your wife goes in for a PAP test, also known as a PAP smear, she is getting checked for cervical cancer or early signs of cervical cancer. Cells are scraped off of the inside of her cervix to be tested.
“Cervical cancer screening is ... a way to detect abnormal cervical cells, including precancerous cervical lesions, as well as early cervical cancers,” according to the National Cancer Institute. “Both precancerous lesions and early cervical cancers can be treated very successfully.”
Also, with some PAP tests, HPV testing will also be done. This test checks for the human papillomavirus that causes cells to change, potentially becoming cancerous, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How often does your wife need a PAP test?
The short answer is usually every three years. This will help her get screened often enough to hopefully catch anything concerning.
“In a low-risk population, PAP smears should start at age 21, regardless of when a woman became sexually active," said Dr. Ryan Porter, of the Lakeview OB/GYN Clinic with MountainStar Healthcare.
A PAP smear without HPV testing is recommended every three years until the age of 30. After 30, PAP with HPV testing should occur every five years.
"An alternative is to perform cytology alone every three years. Screening usually stops at age 65, or when a woman has a hysterectomy with removal of her cervix,” according to Porter. However, it should be noted that those people who are at a higher risk of cervical cancer need to have more frequent PAP tests to check for HPV.
“In a high-risk population, PAP smears should be performed every year, even if they have had a hysterectomy, since HPV can also cause vaginal and vulvar cancer,” Porter said.
Are there recent advances that should give women hope?
While cervical cancer treatment and survival statistics have stayed pretty consistent over the past 10 years, doctors have changed how often they recommend testing, explains Porter. For women who aren’t at high risk, the testing has been pushed from every year to every 3 to 5 years depending on age and whether high-risk HPV testing is a part of the PAP test. This is because of the body’s natural ability to heal in some cases.
"In most cases, after several years the bodies’ immune system will clear out the infection," Porter said. "Expert opinion, supported by data, was that by performing PAP smears less frequently fewer biopsies and surgical treatments would be performed without increasing the rate of invasive cervical cancer."
How should a wife (and husband) prepare for her PAP test?
Believe it or not, the husband can help the wife prepare for her pap test by being aware of what she can and can’t do in the time leading up to it.
“You should not schedule your test for a time when you are having your period. If you are going to have a test in the next two days— You should not douche (rinse the vagina with water or another fluid). You should not use a tampon. You should not have sex. You should not use a birth control foam, cream, or jelly. You should not use a medicine or cream in your vagina,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If both the husband and wife are aware of the upcoming test, understand its importance, and how to prepare, the chances of having a successful test are greater.
Can PAP tests give false positives?
PAP tests can give false positives; however, a false positive can help doctors to know if there is something that needs to be looked at more closely or if a preventative treatment is needed.
“This is a very complex question," Porter explained. "The majority of women with abnormal PAP smears do not go on to develop invasive cervical cancer and it isn’t because they had a false positive test result. The immune system can and does clear out real infections with HPV."
Because it is easier to prevent cervical cancer than to treat it, Porter said every abnormal test result should be investigated so that precancerous lesions can be treated before they can advance to invasive cancer.
Do PAP smears hurt?
Some women may tell you that pap smears hurt, others may tell you it doesn’t.
“You may feel pulling or pressure during the collection of the cells, but it typically does not hurt,” according to Cancer.net, which goes on to say that “You can resume your normal activities right after having a PAP test. You may have a small amount of vaginal bleeding after your PAP test. But tell your health care provider if you experience excessive bleeding.”
However, that isn’t to say that PAP smears can’t have other side effects.
“A PAP smear can be uncomfortable. It’s not uncommon to experience cramping or mild bleeding as a result of the screening. However, heavy bleeding or severe cramping isn’t normal,” according to Healthline, which goes on to say “Don’t exert yourself if you’re experiencing cramping or soreness after the test. Give your body a bit of time to heal so you don’t accidentally worsen the bleeding. Call your doctor if your bleeding is heavy, becomes worse, or doesn’t end after three days.”
Husbands should try to be understanding and aware that not all PAP smears are the same. While some women have no effects from it, others may have some things they must to deal with. A little bit of patience and time can go a long way.
How high is the risk of cervical cancers, and is there something else that women can do to prevent them?
“The American Cancer Society lists the 2019 statistics as 13,170 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed, and 4,250 deaths from cervical cancer . . . The important thing to notice however is that there is big difference in our ability to treat this disease depending on how early we are able to diagnose it,” according to Porter.
The sooner a woman is diagnosed, the greater the ability to treat this disease.
Cervical cancer is usually caused by a human papillomavirus infection. The HPV virus accounts for 90 percent of all cases of cervical cancer. It also accounts for about 90 percent of all cases of anal cancer, 70 percent of vulvar and vaginal cancers, 60 percent of penile cancer and approximately 70 percent of throat cancers.
"HPV is a sexually transmitted virus and the CDC estimates that 80 percent of sexually active adults will contract the virus during their lives,” Porter said.
When looking into other ways to detect cervical cancer, it’s important to realize that the best way to detect cells that have been affected by HPV is a PAP test.
The only reliable form of screening for HPV related cervical cancer is a PAP smear. Routine annual Ob/Gyn office visits are recommended, even on years when PAP smears are not required.
"Other than this, the only other thing women can do to prevent late-stage cervical cancer is to pay attention for warning signs," Porter said. "It is unusual to have bleeding after intercourse and this should always be investigated. Any change in vaginal discharge, or bowel or bladder function, and painful intercourse should also be investigated.”
When a wife goes in for a pap test, these are things a husband needs to know to be supportive and understanding. If you have questions about getting a Pap smear, find a Mountainstar OB/GYN near you.
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