The advances in modern medicine have made real the dream of complete eradication of cervical cancer. With cervical cancer screening programs and vaccinations, while the rest of the world marches towards achieving very low cancers of cervix we in India continue to have some of the largest. A pap smear is a traditional method of screening the cervix (the lower part of the uterus). It is a method to detect any pre-cancerous changes in the cells in the cervix.

This term is used synonymously to cervical screening in our country.

Many western countries have a screening program, which usually starts at the age of 25 and extends to the age of 65. The test is done at intervals of usually 3-5 years.



You normally see a gynaecologist, who does an examination, inspects the cervix and takes a specimen for the smear test.

Usually a spatula or a brush is used to gently scrape the cervix, in order to collect cells from over it and send it to the labs. The pathologist then examines the cells and reports them as normal or abnormal.

If the tests are normal you only need to get them done after 3 or 5 years usually.

In our hospital the results are usually available the next day and you see a gynaecologist, who explains to you the diagnosis and hands you a printed report and usually a slide for future reference if required.



The following women do not need this test.

  • Women under the age of 25
  • Women older than (65) if their last smear was normal
  • Women who have had hysterectomy for non-cancerous causes.
  • Women who have not been sexually active



The huge advantage of this test is that it diagnoses cervical abnormalities even before the onset of cancer. These abnormalities can then be treated by removing a part of the cervix or a simple hysterectomy. Treatment after the onset of cancer involves extensive surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy and there might not be complete cure in advanced cases.

The cervical screening test is a very good screening tool as it is inexpensive, not very invasive or painful and offers an advantage of early diagnosis and treatment.

Even though this is a test for cervical screening it also offers a perfect opportunity for diagnosis of vaginal infections and other gynaecological abnormalities as an additional advantage.



If you have had the HPV vaccine (which is a vaccine designed to prevent cervical cancer) it does not mean that you don’t need to participate in a screening programme.

In conclusion “Prevention is better than cure “, so I hope all the women reading this article take an individual responsibility to get this test and educate their friends and family about it too.






Dr. Vaishnavi is a senior consultant in Obstetrics, gynaecology and Urogynaecology at Kauvery hospital-Chennai.

She is a specialist in advanced gynaecology, incontinence and pelvic floor problems in women.