Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is almost always caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. While vaccines are available to protect against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers, the only certain way of avoiding the virus is by abstaining from sexual activity. You can reduce your risk by limiting the number of sex partners or being in a relationship with one partner who has had few or no past sex partners.
A pap test should be a part of your routine annual exam beginning in your early 20s. Pap tests detect the earliest signs of cervical cancer, as well as infections and abnormal cervical cells that can become cancerous. Treating these early signs can prevent most cases of cervical cancer from developing.
When you undergo a Pap test, you can expect the following:
- You will be asked to undress from the waist down and will be given a sheet to cover your lower body.
- You will lie down on the examination table and place your feet in stirrups to hold them in place (stirrups are often cold, so you may want to wear a pair of socks).
- Your doctor will lubricate your vagina and insert a tool called a speculum that will spread the opening and allow access to the cervix.
- Your doctor will take a small brush or cotton swab and use it to take sample cells by gently rubbing the cervix.
- The cells are then transferred to a slide or tube so they can be sent to the lab for analysis.
- Once the cell sample is taken, your doctor will gently remove the speculum and you will be done with your Pap test.
Some women experience mild discomfort, similar to menstrual cramps, during the Pap test, but this usually goes away once the exam is finished. If you experience any pain during or after the test, let your doctor know immediately.