Putting your feet up in the stirrups for a quick Pap test may cost you
a bit of discomfort, but it could also save your life. The cervical cancer
death rate has been halved in the last three decades because women have
routinely undergone Pap tests.
A routine Pap test allows your doctor to track any abnormal cervical cell
changes (pre-cancer) and allows for earlier treatment and detection to
prevent cancer from developing. Simply knowing the signs and symptoms
of cervical cancer can help you seek the treatment you need.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer may develop when pre-cancerous changes occur in the cells
lining the cervix. Pre-cancer can become cancer in less than a year or
may take several years. Some women with pre-cancer never develop cancer.
But the American Cancer Society recommends all women receive treatment
for pre-cancer because it can prevent cervical cancers from developing.
Some women have no symptoms of cervical cancer. Others may show signs and
symptoms only after the cancer becomes invasive and spreads to other tissues
nearby in the body, according to The American Cancer Society. Symptoms
Bleeding that is abnormal such as after sex, after menopause, bleeding
and spotting between periods, heavier or longer menstrual periods or bleeding
after douching or a pelvic examination
What is a Pap Test?
Your gynecologist will take a small device called a speculum to keep the
vagina open and use a spatula to scrape epithelial cells from the lining
of your cervix. Then, the doctor will take another sample from the endocervix
using a brush or cotton-tipped swab.
A pelvic exam is not the same as a Pap test. During a pelvic exam, your
doctor will examine the reproductive organs and may also test for sexually
transmitted diseases and perform a Pap test.
How Often Should I Be Tested?
The American Cancer Society recommends following these guidelines for testing
and screening of cervical cancer:
- Beginning at age 21, all women should undergo a Pap test every three years
until they reach 29 years old.
- Once you are 30 years old, your gynecologist will recommend a Pap test
combined with a test for HPV every five years. This co-testing will continue
until you are 65 years old. You may also opt to undergo just Pap testing
every three years between the ages of 30 and 65 years old.
- Women who have undergone total hysterectomies can stop screenings unless
they had the hysterectomy as a result of removing pre-cancerous cells.
If you had a hysterectomy without removal of the cervix, you can follow
the testing recommendations outlined above.
Early detection of cervical cancer is possible with routine screenings
with a Pap and/or HPV test. And if you notice any of the signs and symptoms
of cervical cancer, call your doctor without delay.
Saint Francis Healthcare will offer free pelvic exams and Pap tests on
Tuesday, April 25 and Wednesday, April 26 at the OB/GYN Center.