Overcoming the pap smear fear


January 14, 2019

Dear Readers,

Joy had an abnormal Pap smear three years ago and was asked to repeat it in six months. Well, she hasn't done it to this day because she says she is afraid to do it again. However, that hasn't stopped her from worrying excessively about her possible illness all this time. She says that she has changed her diet. She eats only vegetables and only uses coconut oil when she needs to fry foods. She also consumes a lot of herbal drinks.

There are many women who experience a lot of anxiety before doing a scheduled Pap smear, so when a second one is scheduled as follow-up, possible aversion is understandable. Many women fear the procedure itself, as well as being terrified by a possible result of cervical cancer. All women over age 18, and younger than 70, should have yearly Pap smears done, unless otherwise informed by their physician.

The procedure is very simple. It involves a regular pelvic examination with the insertion of an appropriately sized speculum, most of which are relatively small in size, followed by the insertion of a cervical brush, which is inserted into the entrance to the cervix (neck of womb) and turned in a circular fashion before removing and placing the very small amount of tissue removed on a slide. This entire procedure can be over in less than five minutes.

Sometimes, due to abnormalities such as uterine fibroids, the Pap smear is a bit more difficult, but if the doctor is having difficulty getting it done, the patient can always be referred to a specialist.

Here in Jamaica, it will take four to six weeks to obtain results because of the processing schedule.

Abnormal smears are also quite common, and depending on the mildness or seriousness of the report, the patient will be advised to proceed along a number of pathways. These include:

• Treat any infection reported.

• Repeat of the Pap smear is 3 to 6 months.

• To refer to gynaecologist for colposcopy to check out the tissues reported on ,to make sure cervical cancer isn't present and to remove as soon as possible, any areas which are very suspicious.

It is important that someone like Joy to have a doctor with whom she can speak openly about her concerns, both about the procedure and about the results. Pap smears should be scheduled for a time at least a week following the period and sex should be avoided for at least 24 hours prior to the Pap smear being done.

Also, don't douche or insert any creams ahead of the Pap smear.

Being comfortable with your doctor is key to avoiding anxiety and fear. When you're uncomfortable, you tend to tighten the vaginal wall muscles and this makes the examination uncomfortable as it will become difficult for the doctor to insert the vaginal speculum.

Talk with your doctor about any concerns ahead of, and even during, the procedure. If you feel discomfort, please say so.

Most doctors do this test quite frequently and they are checking you medically to make sure you are healthy and well.

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