The Pap test (PAP smear) was invented in 1928 by the Greek biologist George Papanikolaou, and it is the most widespread worldwide test for the detection of malformations and precancerous conditions as well as for the prevention of cervical cancer.
This is an easy and quick cytological examination, which involves the gynecologist collecting cells from the woman’s cervix and vagina and the cytologist microscopically examining the cell sample.
During the PAP test, the woman lies on the gynecological bed or on the stirrups chair in order for the gynecologist to examine the vagina and the cervix with the aid of a speculum.
Then, using a small spatula and another medical tool with a soft brush, the doctor collects a sample of cells from the cervix and vagina and places them on microscope slides. Finally, the sample is sent for examination to the cytologist to identify any abnormalities, malformations or malignancies.
The Pap test is an essentially painless procedure in the majority of cases. However, some women may feel a slight annoyance or pain for a few seconds, which most of the time is due to the anxiety that this test generates.
If a woman has a normal 28-day cycle, the best time to undergo a PAP smear is around the middle of the cycle (14th day) without this being binding. The only exception is during menstruation (period).
It is advisable to avoid sexual intercourse 2 or 3 days before testing to minimize the possibility of cell damage or micro-injuries as well as vaginal lavage for at least 24 hours before the test. Also, tampons, spermicides and vaginal ointments should not be used for at least 2 days prior to testing.
A woman would have to undergo a PAP smear within one year of her first sexual intercourse, which is to repeated annually for sexually active women, per gynecologists recommendations.
Should the test reveal a finding, the PAP smear should be repeated within six months.
For mid-menopausal women or for those with a stable sexual partner who have never experienced a gynecological problem, the examination may take place once every two years.
In the case of non-sexually active or elderly women, the PAP test is no longer considered necessary.
The PAP smear is an essentially vital test, on the one hand because it can prevent cervical cancer, and on the other because with colposcopy it can help detect pre-cancerous lesions that can be effectively treated before developing into cancer.