Pap Smear Test in Kenya: Powerful Protection from Cervical Cancer

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Cervical cancer, although preventable, remains a significant public health concern in Kenya. Early detection is crucial for successful treatment and improved survival rates. This is where the Pap smear test, a simple yet powerful screening tool, plays a vital role.

Is Cervical cancer a major health issue among Kenyan women? 

According to Globocan 2020, approximately 5600 women get cervical cancer in Kenya. It’s also estimated that about 3200 also die of the disease. This makes cervical cancer the deadliest cancer in Kenya. 

What is a Pap smear test?

A Pap smear test, also known as a Pap test, is a routine gynaecological examination that checks for abnormal cells on the cervix, the opening to the uterus from the vagina. During the test, a healthcare professional gently scrapes a few cells from the cervix using a special soft brush. These cells are then examined under a microscope for any abnormalities that could indicate abnormal changes or early-stage cervical cancer.

Why is a Pap smear test important?

Cervical cancer often develops slowly, with precancerous changes occurring years before cancer itself. The Pap smear test helps identify these precancerous changes early on, allowing for timely intervention and treatment before they progress to cancer. This significantly improves the chances of successful treatment and ultimately saves lives.

How effective is pap smear in the prevention of Cervical cancer?

 Based on experience from Western countries, regular cervical cancer screening has reduced the incidence of the disease by 80%. So going for regular screening( in addition to other interventions like vaccination) can drastically reduce your chances of developing cervical cancer. 

When and how often should you get a Pap smear?

The Ministry of Health guidelines:

  • All women aged 21 and above: Should undergo a Pap smear test every 3 years if they have ever been sexually active.
  • Women aged 30 and above: Can opt for combined Pap smear and HPV testing every 5 years if both tests were negative in the previous screening.
  • Women with certain risk factors: Such as HIV infection, a weakened immune system, or a history of precancerous changes, may need more frequent screenings as advised by their doctor.
pap smear:  cervical cancer ribbon

So, what happens during a Pap smear?

The Pap smear procedure itself is generally quick and straightforward, taking around 10-20 minutes with only a few minutes dedicated to the actual test. Here’s what you can expect:

  1. Preparation: You’ll lie on an examination table with your legs comfortably in stirrups. Your doctor will likely ask about your medical history and recent menstrual cycle.
  2. Speculum insertion: To gain clear access to the cervix, your doctor will gently insert a speculum, a smooth, plastic or metal instrument, into your vagina. This may feel cool or slightly uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t cause pain.
  3. Cell collection: Using a soft brush or spatula, your doctor will gently scrape a small sample of cells from the surface of your cervix. This sampling typically doesn’t cause pain, but you might feel a slight pinch or scratch.
  4. Sample transfer: The collected cells are then transferred onto a glass slide or into a liquid solution depending on the type of Pap smear test used.
  5. Speculum removal and completion: The speculum will be gently removed, and the entire procedure is complete. You can then dress and resume your normal activities.

Remember, throughout the process, your doctor should be open to your questions and address any discomfort you might experience. Don’t hesitate to communicate if anything feels painful or unsettling.ro

What Happens to Your Pap Smear Sample?

Once the tiny sample of cells is collected, its journey continues in the lab! Here’s a simplified peek behind the scenes:

Preparation: The slide or vial containing your cells goes through a special processing step to prepare them for viewing under a microscope. This might involve fixing the cells in a solution or spreading them out on the slide.

Microscopic examination: A trained laboratory professional, often a cytologist, examines the prepared cells under a powerful microscope. They meticulously scan for any abnormalities in the cell size, shape, and arrangement.

Pap smear Evaluation

Your test results will be categorized according to the Bethesda System, which classifies them as normal, abnormal, or inconclusive.

  • Normal results: Indicate no precancerous changes or cancer and the next test is due in 3 (or 5) years.
  • Abnormal results: May require further investigation with colposcopy (a closer examination of the cervix) or other tests depending on the specific abnormality detected.
  • Inconclusive results: Often necessitate repeating the test to obtain a clearer picture.

Your doctor will discuss your results and any necessary follow-up steps in detail.

Reducing your risk of cervical cancer:

Beyond Pap smears, other measures can help protect you from cervical cancer:

  • HPV vaccination: The HPV vaccine protects against human papillomavirus, the main risk factor for cervical cancer. It is recommended for girls aged 9-14 years in Kenya.
  • Safe sex practices: Consistent condom use can reduce the risk of HPV transmission and other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Healthy lifestyle choices: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a balanced diet, and smoking cessation can contribute to overall health and potentially reduce cancer risk.

How much does a Pap smear cost in Kenya? 

The cost of a Pap smear in Kenya can vary depending on several factors, including:

Type of facility: Public hospitals and government health clinics generally offer Pap smears at subsidized rates or even for free through screening programs. Private hospitals and clinics typically charge higher fees.

Type of test: Conventional Pap smears using a microscope are usually less expensive than newer liquid-based Pap tests or combined Pap smear and HPV testing.

Location: Costs might differ slightly between urban and rural areas.

Here’s a general idea of the price range:

Public Hospitals and Clinics: Free through screening programs or around Ksh 200-500.

Private Hospitals and Clinics: Ksh 1,000-3,000 for a conventional Pap smear and Ksh 2,000-5,000 for liquid-based or combined tests.

Additional options:

Health insurance: Some health insurance plans may cover the cost of Pap smears. It’s important to check your specific plan details.

NGOs and community organizations: Certain NGOs and community organizations offer free or subsidized Pap smears, especially in underserved areas. You can inquire with local health organizations or community centers for potential resources.

Remember, regardless of the cost, prioritizing your health and getting regular Pap smears is crucial for early detection and prevention of cervical cancer. Don’t hesitate to explore available options and resources to ensure you access this vital screening test.

Pap Smear and Cervical Cancer Screening: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Wrapping up pap smear for cervical cancer screening

The Pap smear test is a powerful tool in the fight against cervical cancer. By prioritizing regular screening, understanding your risk factors, and adopting preventive measures, you can significantly reduce your risk of this preventable disease. Take control of your health, get informed, and encourage others to do the same. Together, we can create a future where cervical cancer is a thing of the past.

References and Sources


Relevant Tests in This Post

Medically reviewed by: Dr Mwaura Joseph

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