Cervical cancer is one cancer that may be detected early with regular screening. Screening can prevent cervical cancer by finding abnormal (precancerous) changes in the cells of the cervix so that they can be treated before they become cancerous. When cervical cancer is detected early, it can be treated successfully.
Risk factors that may increase a woman’s chance of having cervical cancer include:
- Human papilloma virus infection
- Chlamydia infection
- Being overweight
- Multiple full-term pregnancies
- Young age at the first full-term pregnancy
- Family history of cervical cancer
Also, there are many women who exhibit no risks and still may develop cervical cancer. Therefore, it is recommended that every woman should have regularly scheduled cervical cancer screening tests (Pap test and/or HPV test).
The Papanicolaou test or Pap test (also called Pap smear, cervical smear, or smear test), is a screening test that collects cells from the cervix to detect abnormal, precancerous and cancer cells in the cervix. This should be done every 3 years, if done alone.
The Human Papilloma virus (HPV) test detects genetic material (DNA or RNA) produced by the virus. This test is more sensitive than the Pap test, and can be done alone or with the Pap test every 5 years.
Patients who have an abnormal screening test require additional diagnostic tests, including colposcopy and biopsy. Pre-cancerous changes of the cervix are readily treated. If cervical cancer is caught early, patients are more likely to be cured when treated and survive the disease
Who Should Have a Cervical Cancer Screening Test?
There are several groups that have issued screening guidelines that differ slightly:
- Pap tests should occur every three years, starting at the age of 21. HPV testing is recommended in one guideline for use starting at age 25, and is used in some cases if a woman has an abnormal Pap result.
- From age 30 to 65, women should have cervical cancer screening tests (using the HPV test and/or the Pap test) every three to five years, based upon the guideline being followed.
- Women over the age of 65, who have previously been diagnosed with precancerous cervical cells should continue screening.
- Those who received the HPV vaccine should follow the screening guidelines for their age group.
- Individuals with a HIV infection or organ transplant may need more frequent cervical cancer screenings. The patient should talk with her healthcare provider for further the appropriate screening plan.
Some women can stop having cervical cancer screenings. This would include women who:
- had their uterus and cervix removed in a hysterectomy and have no history of cervical cancer or pre-cancer should not be screened.
- are 65 years and older who received regular cervical cancer screenings and had normal results.
For additional information on cervical cancer and cervical cancer screening, visit the American Cancer Society website.