As part of National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, we want to ‘shine the light’ on cervical screening, most commonly known as Pap smears.
Did you know that cervical cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer? That’s the good news! Research however, tells us that almost half of all eligible women in WA are not participating in regular cervical screening.
In our quest to encourage regular Pap smears, we want to provide you with the latest information. Read on for some frequently asked questions that our clients ask us through the sexual health helpline and within our clinics.
What is the main cause of cervical cancer?
Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Anyone who has ever had sexual contact can have HPV and four out of five people will have HPV at some time in their lives (that’s a lot!).
The biggest risk factor for developing cervical cancer is not having regular Pap smears. In fact, four out of five women who develop cervical cancer have never had a Pap smear or do not have regular screening (that’s a lot too!).
What is a Pap smear?
A Pap smear is a simple test used to screen for changes in the cells of the cervix which, if left undetected and untreated, may lead to cervical cancer. A speculum is inserted into the vagina and a sample of cells is taken from the cervix.
How often should I have a Pap smear?
It is currently recommended that all women should have regular two-yearly Pap smears (this is set to change so keep an eye out for future updates!). Regular screening is really important as there are often no symptoms in the early stages of cervical cancer. Women who experience unusual vaginal bleeding, discharge or pain should see a health professional as soon as possible.
I’ve had the HPV vaccine; do I still need to have regular Pap smears?
The HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer so it is important to continue regular screening.
I’m a lesbian; do I still need to have Pap smears?
All women, including lesbian and bisexual women, need to have regular Pap smears. HPV is spread through genital skin contact during sexual activity, so this includes female-to-female activity.
It is not uncommon for people to feel nervous about having a Pap smear. Ask your health professional to explain the procedure to you and ask any other questions you may have. Make sure you book with a health professional you feel comfortable with and take a support person with you if you want.
So if you’ve never had a Pap smear before, or if you’re overdue for your regular screening, use National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month as an opportunity to book your appointment now. You can visit your GP or come to us at SHQ in Northbridge.