Health Glossary - For Everyone

Pap smear
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What is a pap smear?

A pap smear (or pap test) is a gynaecological screening test performed on women to test the cervix for any abnormal cells to detect any disease of the cervix.

A pap smear can be performed by a regular doctor or it can be performed by a specialist (a gynaecologist).

A pap smear is performed by the doctor inserting a speculum inside the woman's vagina to widen it, in order to insert a swab and take a sample of cells inside the cervix. These cells are placed on a glass slide and sent to a laboratory for examination.

Pap smear cell abnormalities fall into the following categories starting from the least abnormal to the most malignant (from the National Cancer Institute):

Pap Smear Result Meaning

Abnormal cells.
  There are four degrees of dysplasia:
(1) mild
(2) moderate
(3) severe
(4) carcinoma in situ (cancer in one place and not spread to other tissues)
Squamous Intraepithileal Lesion (SIL)

Abnormal cells changes in the cells on the surface flat cells of the cervix.
  There are two types of SIL:
(1) Low grade - early changes in the size, shape, and number of flat (squamous) surface cells
(2) High grade - abnormal, pre-cancerous cells that are very different to surrounding cells
Cervical Intraepithileal Neoplasia (CIN) Abnormal growth of cells on the surface of the cervix.
  CIN 1 - 1/3 of the surface of the cervix has abnormal cells (mildly abnormal cells)
CIN 2 - 2/3 of the surface of the cervix has abnormal cells (moderately abnormal cells)
CIN 3 - All of the surface of the cervix have abnormal cells (severely abnormal cells), also called carcinoma in situ
Atypical Squamous Cells

Unclear results - require a repeat pap smear.
  Could be due to a number of factors:
* infection (candida, HPV, herpes)
* use of medication
* improper amount of cells used for test
Cervical Cancer Abnormal cells which have spread deeper into the cervix or to other tissues or organs.

Pre-cancerous changes of the cervix will not necessarily develop into cancer, but they do need to receive medical attention.


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Important pap smear facts

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Why pap smears are important

A regular pap smear is the best way to avoid cancer of the cervix, as abnormal cells can be detected a very long time before they turn into cancer of the cervix.

In 2007, a new vaccine against a few of the different types of Human papilloma viruses (HPV) viruses which cause cancer of the cervix has recently been developed by Australian researchers was administered to girls and women in Australia.

While the Human papilloma viruses (HPV) are the ones which are the main culprit for causing cancer of the cervix and for which the cervical cancer vaccine was developed (it is not foolproof), so it is still necessary for women to have a regular pap smear.


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Last reviewed: 30 September 2007 || Last updated: 14 March 2010


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More information

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NOTE: Mega doses of any type of vitamin, mineral, amino acid or herbal supplement cannot cure illnesses and in fact can be very dangerous and produce toxic side effects and interfere with medicine you are taking. Always ensure you consult your doctor before taking any type of complementary supplements.
Disclaimer: This guide is not intended to be used for diagnostic or prescriptive purposes. For any treatment or diagnosis of illness, please see your doctor.


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