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Promoting the importance of routine pap smears: Tips for your clinic

Promoting the importance of routine pap smears: Tips for your clinic

Pap smears are screening procedures used by physicians to look for the presence of cancerous or pre-cancerous cells in a woman's cervix, an overview article from Healthline explained. The test is an effective method for detecting cervical cancer in patients during its early stages, which increases the chance of positive treatment outcomes. Therefore, all young women – typically over the age of 21 – should receive a pap smear every three years or so, Dr. Michael Webber explained in the question and answer section of the Healthline article. 

Promoting the importance and efficacy routine pap smears among patient populations can be a challenge for providers. There are, however, a number of strategies that clinics can employ to help inform as many patients as possible about them. This article will examine those crucial approaches before explaining why single-use vaginal speculums are key in the fight against HPV-induced cases of cervical cancer.

A closer look at cervical cancer
Before an examination of pap smear promotion strategies, it's important to take a closer look at what cervical cancer is and why it occurs. As detailed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cervical cancer occurs when damaged cells divide and spread, forming a cancerous tumor in the cervix, which is located in the female reproductive system below the uterus. Unlike some other forms of cancer, cervical cancer usually develops gradually over time, which is why screening for cancerous cells can be an effective way to catch the disease before it becomes advanced and treatment is less successful. When detected early, cervical cancer can be highly treatable. 

The source noted that the disease is usually asymptomatic, again pointing to the importance of routine pap smears. Only advanced stage cervical cancer usually produces symptoms that are notable, the Mayo Clinic explained. Common signs include pain, especially in the pelvis area, abnormal bleeding outside of a menstrual cycle and vaginal discharge, which may contain blood.  

The Mayo Clinic elaborated that a notable risk factor for developing cervical cancer is having the Human Papillomavirus. As detailed by the CDC, HPV is a ubiquitous virus, usually passed on via sexual activity, that has many different types. Most of the time HPV will produce no discernable symptoms in individuals, and will usually be eradicated by the immune system. Given how widespread HPV is, the CDC reported that a vast majority of adults who engage in sexual activity will contract the condition – likely on multiple occasions – and that most of the time these cases will go unnoticed and resolve on their own. HPV is only a concern, therefore, because certain strains have been shown to lead to cervical cancer in women. HPV also causes genital warts in some patients. 

"A notable risk factor for developing cervical cancer is having the Human Papillomavirus."

Due to the connection with HPV, a sexually transmitted virus, women with a larger number of sexual partners are at an elevated risk of cervical cancer. The disease is by no means only related to the presence of HPV​; cervical cancer can form in women without the virus and certain lifestyle factors can sometimes be to blame, including poor diet and smoking.

The importance of pap smears
As explained by Healthline, pap smears involve the removal of small amounts of cells from inside of a patient's cervix. The purpose of this is to test for any cells that could indicate the presence of cancer or cells that show the possibility that cancer may form later on – these are known as pre-cancer cells. The procedure is conducted using a vaginal speculum, which allows for more effective access to the area. Most patients do not experience any notable complications from this screening procedure. There is the potential for minor bleeding and some pain. 

Discussion sessions are an effective way to inform patients about pap smears. Discussion sessions are an effective way to inform patients about pap smears.

Approaches to promoting the importance of pap smears
Promoting the criticalness of routine pap smears is an important undertaking. Here are some effective strategies that clinics can employ to ensure their patient populations remain as informed as possible:

1. Educational discussions
As detailed by information from the Health Resources and Services Administration, physicians should initiate discussions with all eligible patients about the importance of routine screening before they turn 21. The educational discussions can be provided at the end of routine visits. Physicians may also wish to organize educational sessions outside of typical office hours to reach as many people as possible.

2. Invitations
According to the Government of Western Australia's Department of Health, an effective approach for clinics is to reach out to all eligible patients individually, either via letter or email, explaining that they are overdue for a pap smear, before offering a concise summary of why it is important. The source noted that the efficacy of this approach has been demonstrated through a number of studies. 

3. Local partnerships
An effective way to spread that clinics can build pap smear awareness is by partnering with organizations in the local community, a guide from the CDC explained, whether that's local church groups, youth groups, businesses or other medical facilities. Partnerships can feature a commitment to distribute information, hold awareness meetings and conduct charity events. 

4. Easy to read materials
It's a fact that patients may not always absorb important information when it is relayed verbally by providers. That's why another important strategy for pap smear awareness is for clinics to distribute educational materials that use elementary language in a concise way, HRSA detailed. Materials with images and other diagrams are even more effective. Reading materials should explain what apprehensive patients can expect from pap smears, why the procedure is important and any instructions that they need to be cognizant of. 

Why single use speculums?
Given the link between HPV and cervical cancer, providers should go to extensive efforts to ensure that women remain as protected as possible from the virus while in a clinical setting. A widely cited study from researchers at Brigham Young University, however, found that when reusable medical tools are utilized, such as vaginal speculums for pap smears, efforts to completely disinfect the tools after use are rarely successful. This is because disinfectant products used in a clinical setting are unable to kill certain strains of HPV, including HPV16, which has been linked to the development of cervical cancer. Consequently, the safest option to reduce the risk of HPV cross-contamination between patients is for clinics to use single-use devices. The range of vaginal speculums from OBP medical, for example, are all cost-effective, pre-assembled and easy to dispose of after one use. The LED light source that the tools emit is also powered safely by alkaline batteries. To learn more and request a free sample, click here.

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