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Mammograms and pap smears decoded


What is breast cancer screening?

  • Breast screening can show breast cancers at an early stage, when they are too small for you or your doctor to see or feel. Regular screenings make it possible to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages and can help save your life and the breast. Self examination must be practiced monthly from teenage onwards by all women.
  • Clinical breast examination may be undertaken annually with one’s doctor.
  • Mammograms every 3 years from the age of 40.

Breast awareness

  • Know what is normal for you. Become familiar with your breasts. If you know what the normal appearance of your breasts is at different times, it will be easier to realize any untoward changes
  • Look at and feel your breasts.
  • Know what changes to look for (lumps, pain, discharge from the nipple or anything else unusual).
  • Tell your doctor about any changes immediately.
  • Go for breast screening every three years if you are over 40.

What is a Mammogram ?

A mammogram is a specific x-ray examination of the breasts that uses a low-dose x-ray system, so the risk to your health is very small. Mammography takes a few minutes and your breasts are only pressed between the two plates for a few seconds each. Many women find mammography uncomfortable or painful, but normally just for a brief period of time. There is no evidence that this procedure harms the breast. A mammogram can detect changes in the breast up to two years before the patient or physician does.

Who should have breast screening done ?

All women aged 40 and above should go for breast screening every three years. Breast cancer risk rises as women get older. There are many reasons for changes in the breast. Most of them are harmless but you should get all of them checked, as there is a small chance that they could be the first sign of cancer. Whatever age you are, if you are ever worried about any breast problem, please contact your doctor who may refer you for a specialist opinion if necessary.

Breast awareness and regular screening together offer you the best chance of finding breast cancer early.

Cervical screening

Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cells in the lining of the cervix. The cervix is found in the lower part or neck of the womb (uterus). 95% of cervical cancers develop because of infection with high risk Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

What is cervical screening?

  • Cervical screening is not a test for diagnosing cervical cancer. It is a test to check the health of the cervix. It is alos called the PAP Smear test.
  • For many women the test results show that everything is fine.
  • But for one in 20 women, the test shows changes in cells that can be caused by many factors.
  • Most of these changes will not lead to cervical cancer.

Who should have the test?

All women who have been sexually active should have a smear test every 3 years, between 25 and 64 years of age. If you have passed the menopause, you still need to be tested to check if your cervix is healthy.

When is the best time to have cervical smear?

You cannot be tested during your period. The best time is in the middle of your cycle or about 2 weeks after your periods.

What happens during the test?

The doctor or nurse will ask you to lie down on a couch. They will then gently put a small instrument, called a speculum, into your vagina to hold it open. Then, they will wipe a small spatula or a brush-like device over the cervix to pick up some cells. They will transfer these cells onto a slide or into a small container of liquid, and send it away for the cells to be examined under a microscope. It is commonly called as the PAP smear test. The test takes just a few minutes.

Does the test hurt?

You might experience some discomfort or pain – try to relax by taking slow, deep breaths as it may hurt more if you are tense. If it is painful, tell the doctor or nurse straightaway, as they may be able to reduce your discomfort.

Can cervical screening prevent cancer?

Regular cervical screening is the best way to detect changes to the cervix early. Early detection and treatment can prevent cancer developing in around 75% of cases.

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