The Pap test (also called a Pap smear) is used to check for changes in the cells of your cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. A Pap test can tell you if you have abnormal cells, infection or cancer. Early diagnosis of illnesses including cancer is key to effective treatment that can even save your life.
Regularity of Pap tests
- Pap tests should be part of every woman’s routine health care. Recommends that all sexually active women have Pap smears as per Ontario cervical screening guideline.
How is a Pap test done?
A Pap test only takes a few minutes. A swab is taken at the opening of the cervix and vagina for examination at a pathology laboratory.
What is Cancer?
All organs of the body are made up of cells. Normally, cells divide to produce more cells only when the body needs them. If cells divide when new ones are not needed, they form a mass of excess tissue called a tumour. Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal and keep dividing and forming more cells without order or control. Tumours can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). The cells in malignant tumours can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also break away from a malignant tumour and travel through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system to form new tumours in other parts of the body. The spread of cancer is called metastasis. Cancer is a group of more than 100 different diseases.
What are the signs and symptoms of cancer?
Cancer often causes symptoms that you can watch for.
- Change in bowel or bladder habits
- A sore that does not heal
- Unusual bleeding or discharge
- Thickening or lump in the breast or any other part of the body
- Pain or burning sensation while urinating
- Abdominal or back pain
- Itching of the vulva
How is cancer diagnosed?
These symptoms are not always warning signs of cancer. They can also be caused by less serious conditions. Hence, it is important to visit a doctor for a definitive diagnosis. Don’t wait to feel pain; early cancer usually does not cause pain. A biopsy is the only sure way to know whether a medical problem is cancer. In a biopsy, your doctor removes a sample of tissue and examines it under a microscope to look for cancer cells.
How is cancer treated?
Cancer is treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy or biological therapy. Your doctor may use one or a combination of these methods. The choice of treatment depends on the type and location of the cancer, whether the disease has spread, your age and general health, and other factors. You can take part in clinical trials (research studies) to test for new treatment methods. Such studies are designed to improve cancer treatment.
Can cancer be prevented?
Many cases of cancer can be prevented by avoiding tobacco products, and choosing foods with less fat and more fibre. In addition, regular check-ups and self-exams can reveal cancer at an early stage when treatment is likely to be effective.