It’s uncomfortable, there’s never a perfect time and you don’t really think you need one every single year, but you do. A pap smear is crucial in the early detection of cervical cancer and could save your life

Lizeth Kruger, Dis-Chem’s National Clinic Manager says while the rate of cervical cancer in South Africa is extremely high, it can be successfully treated if detected in the early stages, so it is critically important that women are aware of the symptoms.

Lizeth says cervical cancer screening is closely linked to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, a well-established cause of cervical cancer. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections and some strains can lead to cervical cancer and genital warts.

What happens during a pap smear?

Many women avoid pap smears because they’re uncomfortable with the thought of sitting in stirrups, being poked prodded and in possible pain.

While it may actually be uncomfortable, pap smears aren’t generally painful nor do they last as long as most people imagine. A pap smear generally lasts only a few minutes; a medical professional does a cervical exam and takes a small sample of the cells in your cervix with a brush or spatula.

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These cells are tested for HPV and can also show changes that could indicate the development of cervical cancer.

5 Questions about Pap smear tests answered

What is HPV?

Over 40 types of HPV can infect the genital area — the vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus, penis, and scrotum — as well as the mouth and throat and, are spread during sexual contact. Most people with HPV have no symptoms and feel totally fine, so they usually don’t even know they are infected. While most genital HPV infections aren’t harmful at all and go away on their own, some kinds can lead to genital warts or certain types of cancer.

Most people with HPV don’t have any symptoms or health problems. But it’s important to know that sometimes HPV can cause genital warts or cancer.

“Unfortunately, most people who have a high-risk type of HPV will never show any signs of the infection until it’s already caused serious health problems. That’s why regular check-ups are so important,” says Lizeth.

What EXACTLY to expect from your annual ‘Pap smear’

Is a pap smear a cancer test?

“In many cases, cervical cancer can be prevented by finding abnormal cell changes that, if left untreated, could develop into cancer. While a pap smear doesn’t directly test for cancer, it detects abnormal cells in the cervix and these can be a red flag for cancer,” Lizeth says.

In support of the Department of Health HPV vaccine school programme to prevent cervical cancer, Dis-Chem Pharmacies is offering cervical cancer screenings for only R180. This programme was initially scheduled to run up until 11 September but due to high demand, Dis-Chem has extended it by a further month to 12 October.

Related: 3 Health checks every woman should have every year

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.