It could prevent you dying of ass cancer for one, so…
Pretty much everyone has heard of the pap smear test, which involves collecting cells from a woman’s cervix, in order to test for abnormal cell growth that could indicate cervical cancer. But far less talked about is its backdoor equivalent, known as an anal pap smear. According to HIV Plus Mag, this pap test for your brown eye involves a healthcare provider (gently) scraping cells from the wall of your anal canal, then sending them to a lab to be examined for abnormal cell growth that could indicate anal cancer caused by HPV.
Noel Brewer, a professor of Health Behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tells me that a physician will use a swab and stick it in your anus, “fairly comfortably,” to collect a sample of your cells. “The Dacron [polyester] swab is inserted 5 to 6 [centimeters] without direct visualization,” reports AmericanFamilyPhysician.org. “Firm lateral pressure is applied to the swab handle. It is rotated and slowly withdrawn from the anal canal.”
Okay, cancer of the anus sounds really shitty (LOLZERS), so why hasn’t my doctor offered to swab out my anal canal yet?
Great question! Brewer says that certainly any guy who is HIV-positive should probably get an anal pap smear. “They’re 100 times more likely to get anal cancer,” says Brewer. But according to HIV Plus Mag, there are a growing number of doctors arguing that anal pap tests should become part of routine screening for gay and bi men, since anal cancer is a rising cause of illness and death among men who have sex with men, especially those who are HIV-positive.
“Being HIV-positive increases the risk of HPV infection and vice versa,” reports the same article in HIV Plus Mag. “Anal HPV can leave lesions on surface tissue of the anus, leaving it more vulnerable to the HIV virus.” That’s why the recommendation is for all gay and bi men — again, especially those who are living with HIV — to be tested every one to three years.
So if I’m not gay, I probably don’t need an anal pap smear?
Not exactly. Brewer says that anal cancer is caused exclusively by HPV, which means technically, it can be passed along through skin-to-skin contact. “If a woman with HPV touches her vagina then puts her finger in your anus, then they could transfer HPV through skin contact.” In other words, if you’re a straight dude and you enjoy any sort of ass play, you should consider getting your asshole swabbed.
And where would I go to get one?
Brewer says to ask your doctor and they should be able to oblige. “They’ve become increasingly common,” says Brewer. But one reason your clinic may not do the test is because they have to be able to recommend a follow-up plan in case you have abnormal cells that are precancerous. “Some clinics don’t have that plan or training in place,” says Brewer. “Which includes removing layers of precancerous lesions from your anal canal.”
This all seems very serious and very preventable, so how come the anal pap doesn’t get the respect it deserves?
Honestly, it’s a bit confusing. Brewer says that Joel Palefsky, an infectious disease physician and leading expert on the issue of HPV-related cancers, is currently conducting a trial to figure out whether an anal pap smear is actually more effective in keeping people alive. “Since most strains of HPV will be naturally cleared by the body’s immune system, doctors are still unsure if anal pap smears are considered over testing and lead to over treatment,” says Brewer. “But if you’re HIV positive and you have a weakened immune system, most physicians will highly recommend you get the test.”
Plus, it’s as easy as one, two, sticking a Q-tip up your butt!