Embarrassing Bodies Down Under

Cervical Cancer Screening: The Pap Smear

Find out information about cervical cancer and its prevention from Dr Ginni Mansberg from Embarrassing Bodies Down Under.

Sadly, by the time Australian women reach the age of 85, 1 in 62 of us will be diagnosed with cervical cancer. Most cervical cancer can be prevented because it's largely caused by a virus called the Human Papillomavirus.

There are two ways that we're attacking that. First of all we now have a vaccine that's excellent in protecting against that virus and girls get it now when they go to high school so that's something that's a really big advance for Australian women. The other thing that we have is a screening programme and that's your pap test.

What is a Pap Test? 

The good thing about pap test is we're not actually looking for cervical cancer per se but the changes that happen on the cervix that tell us that the wart virus is there and that the cervical cancer may be developing in the future. And that means we can treat it, get rid of those abnormal cells long before they've even turned into cervical cancer. So in theory if you are having regular pap tests, we should be able to prevent the vast majority of cervical cancer from happening at all.

When having a pap test we insert speculum into the vagina to open it up to visualise the cervix, to make sure it's all okay.  And then we use a small soft brush (it wont hurt you).  This is inserted inside your vagina to scrape the cell walls in order to take a sample.  It is then sent off to a pathology lab and that's it.

If you're having regular pap tests, fingers crossed you'll never need to worry about cervical cancer but it does happen, especially for women who haven't had regular pap tests. So the sorts of symptoms I want you to look out for are bleeding between periods, always need to see a doctor about that. Bleeding with sexual intercourse, again it's a red flag, you need to go and see a GP about that. It could be abnormal discharge, it could be weird pains downstairs, any of those things just go and get it checked out by a doctor.

Tips to Survive a Pap Smear

Let me give you some tips to surviving your pap test from me to you, we can make it a whole heap better.
- Number one, do not be cold. There is nothing worse than turning up and being freezing and having no clothes on. So leave your socks on and come with socks.

- Number two, ease of access. There is no point coming in some cat woman suit that is hard to extricate yourself so you're going to need to lie there with no clothes on. A decent skirt will probably be an excellent way to turn up for your pap test.
- Number three, dark chocolate. Have a bit of dark chocolate with you in the waiting room and take it just before you're due in to go and see the doctor because it seems to have an anti anxiety effect and it seems to take the edge off the pain. Happy days we all love that.
- Number four, speak up. If you are worried about anything don't just lie there and take it, you've got to talk to your doctor, we do want to hear about your concerns.
- Lastly, have a bit of a wash before you come to the doctor. I don't care, I've seen it all before. I've seen them in every smell, every shape, every size. There is nothing worse than feeling really embarrassed that you might have hair in the wrong place or be dirty or smelly, if it will make you feel happier, just pop home before hand, have a quick wash.

Once you become sexually active when you reach 18 or 20, whichever's the sooner after you become sexually active, we do recommend a pap test every two years, usually with your GP and you can hang up your boots and your seventieth birthday, happy days.

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