Relax: A Routine Pap Test Helps Prevent Cervical Cancer

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 may include:

  • 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

  • Unusual discharge that may contain blood after menopause or between periods

  • Pain during intercourse

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.

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