We’ve all heard it before at the doctor’s office, you need to get a PAP smear. Why? It looks for one of the most common cancers in women – cervical cancer. Not only does it look for it, but it is also a completely treatable cancer if found early.
Sounds simple enough right? Not exactly.
Pap smears: important, awkward, and no longer the Gold Standard!
To get the test down, you need to make a booking at the doctor’s office (GP or specialist). Aside from the driving and waiting (the easy part), the sample then needs to be collected. This is done via a speculum; a metal or plastic device inserted into a person’s vagina to visualize and collect a sample from the cervix.
A metal speculum: not exactly designed for comfort
A modern solution for an age-old problem
Luckily, Pap smears are no longer the only method to test for cervical cancer. In 2020 the American Cancer Association updated its recommendation promoting HPV testing as the test of choice for cervical cancer screening. If HPV testing is unavailable, then a Pap smear should be considered.
Testing in the privacy of your home
With HPV home testing, you’re able to collect the sample from the comforts of your own home. Meaning no visit to the doctor’s room and no more speculums. HPV home testing is done using a tampon-like device, or a brush-like device that can be self-administered. After the sample has been collected, simply return it to the laboratory and wait for the results.
Early and regular testing is the key to prevention
According to the WHO, cervical cancer remains a preventable cancer in African women. In developed nations, the risk for cervical cancer is drastically reduced due to regular and good access to testing.
America Cancer Association guidelines suggest:
- Testing in all women beginning at the age of 21 – 25
- HPV testing is the test of choice, if unavailable then consider the Pap smear
- HPV vaccination in all negative test results
- Re-screen every 3-5 years in negative individuals
- Cervical cancer screening is important as it is the most common preventable cancer amongst women in Africa
- HPV (PCR-based) testing is the new recommendation by the American Cancer Association as it is more accurate and less invasive compared to the Pap Smear
- Screening is recommended in women once sexually active, to be repeated every 3-5 years if the results are negative
- Home-based HPV testing is now available in South Africa where you can Get Tested painlessly in the privacy of your home using a tampon-like device