Anal Pap smear: how is it done and what is it for?
Women know they should have a Pap test to prevent cervical cancer, but have you ever heard of the anal Pap test? It is a very similar test that, as its name implies, is performed in the anus.
But it doesn’t hurt to remember what the Pap smear is all about in the first place. It is also called vaginal cytology, and it consists of taking a sample of cells from the cervix to analyze them under a microscope and identify if there is any sign of cancer in that area.
To obtain the sample, the neck of the uterus (or cervix) is scraped with a small brush and what is obtained is deposited on a glass slide that is covered with another. Women who have undergone this procedure, usually every year, will tell you that the curettage takes only a few seconds and usually causes no more than slight discomfort.
On the trail of HPV
Now, we know that the vast majority of cases of cervical cancer are caused by an infection of the Human Papilloma Virus, HPV. That is why, since the vaccines against this virus were created, there has been much insistence on the importance of applying them to as many people as possible, since the fact that a vaccine can prevent cancer implies a great opportunity.
However, HPV is not only lodged in the vagina, but can also be in the mouth or anus, since all of them are mucous membranes that can be involved in various sexual practices. It has also been observed that HPV can cause cancer of the throat (pharynx) and is related to most cases of anal cancer.
It is in this way that the Pap test can reach the anus. To be more precise, it’s called anal cytology, and it requires the same scraping procedure to obtain cells, but this time from inside the anus, to be checked for signs of cancer in the area.
In some cases (depending on the health service) two samples can be taken: the first has the same destination under the microscope as in the case of vaginal cytology, that is where you can see if there are cancer cells; the second sample is to analyze whether HPV is present and what is the strain of the virus, so that the level of risk of cancer that the person has is evaluated.
Anal cytology is not a well-known or very frequent procedure, but it is very useful when health personnel suspect that there may be an HPV infection and, therefore, a possibility of cancer.
The role of HIV
Since they are both viruses that are spread through sexual contact, HPV and HIV could be present in the same person. This is why when someone has HIV, their doctor is more likely to want to do an anal smear to find out if there is a risk of cancer. It should be remembered that people with HIV seem to be more likely to develop cancer, although the reason is not very clear.
The important thing is that, once a single sexually transmitted infection is detected (whether these viruses or syphilis or some other), it is appropriate to look for more of them in order to prevent all the risks that the person may run by having had sex without protection.
So that you do not expose yourself when enjoying your sexual life, at AHF Latin America and the Caribbean we have free condoms for you. And to take even more care of your health, take a free HIV test. Just come to our offices in your country or write to us on Whatsapp.