What the hell is a pap smear? Suddenly I found myself at the hospital taking something called a pap test. Something that is pretty intrusive but supposedly very essential. When I walked up to the nurse requesting to take one, she looked at me confused and asked if I was married and then my age. When I said 23, her confusion very evidently turned into astonishment and sent me back home. Honestly I was just happy avoiding the hospital altogether, so I left.
When I hit 25, and had now been exposed to all the “splendors” of conventional cancer treatments, I went back to the same hospital and requested for the test again. Almost déjà vu, the nurse still very much confused asked if I was married, then my age and once again said I didn’t need it. This time I probed further and asked why exactly. Her reply was that I had to be married, which in Indian terms means that I had to be “sexually active”. I was absolutely astonished. Here I stood in one of the best hospitals in India asking to take one of the most critical tests every girl should be taking and I was being sent back home for the second time. Not because she believed 23 or 25 was too young, but only because she was embarrassed to ask me whether I was sexually active or not and solely for the convenience of saving herself from the embarrassment, she decided I wasn’t. So of course I made her feel extremely comfortable and told her exactly what my current sexual status was and she then quickly and quite honestly very comically ushered me in.
Anyway, what is a pap smear? Yes, I didn’t know what it was and I can bet you there are many girls out there who really have no clue. They will wait obliviously and ignorantly like myself, till a family member, a close relative, a friend or even worse themselves get diagnosed with cancer of the cervix. And like me they will be sent back home. As extreme as this sounds, its very much happening today!!
A pap smear is a crucial test specifically for women that detect any abnormalities, precancerous or cancerous cells of the cervix and the reproductive system. While there are many reasons that play indicative factors in developing cervical cancer, the most common is HPV. Human Papillomavirus is a sexually transmitted disease (STD), which is a very common virus with majority of women in their lives being infected by HPV at some point. In most cases however the immune system fights off the infection and the person who is infected might never know about it, as it rarely has any symptoms. Therefore if you are sexually active, no matter what age, you need to take a pap smear. The American Cancer Society takes it one step further and states that regardless of sexual activity, every girl at 21 and above requires the pap test.
While there are various recommendations on the frequency of tests and I strongly suggest you go with your personal doctors opinion, it is believed that a pap smear is required only once in three years. The reason being that the development of cervical cancer is slow and usually takes years to form. Hence frequent pap smears will not be useful, in addition to other negatives one might face with too many pap tests. It is extremely important to mention here that an STD check is different and a pap smear doesn’t necessarily check for STDs. Make sure you ask your doctor whether the pap includes a test for HPV. On the other hand, it is essential to note that an annual female check up is necessary no matter what.
The awkward reactions of talking about one’s sex life in India are ridiculous. I’m not saying to display it on your shirt but lets be honest here, you and I know that talking about anything remotely related to sex is an uncomfortable topic and most worryingly even within medical confinements. The funny thing is, I say this and I very much feel the awkwardness too. It is ingrained in all of us. But don’t let these falsely embedded social norms dictate the quality of your life or for the women who matter the most. Don’t conveniently ignore the importance of this due to your embarrassment or someone else’s.
You might have to stand there like me, feel a bit queasy in the stomach and be public about your private life for two minutes or like my best friend who struggles with the “what if” for a couple of hours after the test. But this is two minutes to a couple of hours of your life, lets not make it the rest of your life!!!
This link is a great site for all the information you require on cancer and the different kinds. http://www.cancer.org/
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