When it comes to cervical cancer screening, you can never be too careful.
A test for cancerous cells can help discover the disease before it has an opportunity to advance. And, you’ll feel better knowing that you’re free and clear.
Who needs a test? What all is involved? And, where can you get the care that you need?
If you’ve got questions, relax. We’re here to help.
In this article, we’ll explore cervical cancer screening and guidelines in easy terms that you can understand. We’ll help you decide if you need to be tested, explain the procedure, and connect you with a specialist close to home.
Keep reading for more information and get started on the path to cancer prevention today!
What Is Cervical Cancer Screening?
There are two tests that can help find this cancer in its early stages.
A Pap smear, or cervical smear for cancer cells, detects precancers. These are cellular changes to the cervix that might become cancer if left untreated.
During a Pap test, your doctor will examine the vagina and the cervix. Then, they will collect a few cells and mucus from the cervix for testing.
These cells can also be tested for HPV, also known as the human papillomavirus. This sexually transmitted disease can also cause cellular changes, eventually allowing cancer to form.
Both tests are performed in your doctor’s office, but your cells will most likely be sent to a local laboratory for a full study. The good news is that because this testing is so routine, you’ll probably have your results within days.
Who Needs Screening?
If you are over 21 and sexually active, the chances are good you need one or both of these tests every one to three years. But, some women have a higher chance of getting cervical cancer and should be screened more frequently.
Cervical Cancer Screening and Guidelines
Pap testing should begin at age 21 for all women. Your best option will likely be a co-test, checking for both precancerous cells and HPV. The good news is, if your test results are normal, your doctor may tell you to wait three years until your next screening.
If you are between 30 and 65 years old, your screening guidelines will be a bit different.
You’ll still need a Pap test every three years. But, you’ll require an HPV test far less frequently. In fact, if your results are normal during your primary HPV testing, you probably won’t need to be screened again for another five years.
Women over 65 generally don’t need screening, but you should discuss this with your doctor before making a final decision.
Some factors and preexisting conditions can increase your risk of developing cervical cancer.
If you have a history of cervical dysplasia (a precancerous condition), HPV infection, exposure to some chemicals like Diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth, or a family history of cervical cancer, you’ll probably need to be tested more often.
This is also true of women who have poorly functioning immune systems. This condition may be caused by immune-suppressing medications, a medical history that includes organ transplantation, and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection.
If you’ve had cervical cancer, you’ll need to work closely with your doctor to check for cancer recurrence. You may require a different type of test. This is especially true if your cervix was removed as part of a trachelectomy or hysterectomy procedure.
In this case, cells from your vaginal walls might need to be tested. You might also require additional screening, like imaging and blood tests.
What Is HPV?
Human papillomavirus, or HPV for short, is now the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.
While most people who have been infected show no symptoms, and their HPV will clear on its own, this is not always the case. When HPV doesn’t go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer.
Even if you’ve been vaccinated, you should still be tested for HPV. There is more than one strain of this virus, and while infection after vaccination is rare, you’re still better off finding out for sure.
So, is there a cure for HPV?
Not yet. For now, the best treatment for HPV is prevention. This includes practicing safe sex, vaccination, and regular testing.
Your test results may simply be described to you as “normal” or “abnormal.”
A normal test result indicates no sign of cellular abnormality, but it might be written in medical terms. Don’t be surprised if your written results sound something like “negative for intraepithelial lesion or malignancy.”
Your negative Pap test results may contain other useful information, too. Benign findings like inflammation and common infection may be noted. And, in some cases, your results might be noted as unsatisfactory for examination. This simply means that your doctor needs to collect another cell sample.
An abnormal test result might require follow-up care. While some minor abnormalities will go away on their own, severe cellular changes will not. Your doctor might recommend that you have a colposcopy. This followup procedure uses an instrument called a colposcope to examine the cervix carefully.
If your initial screening detected cellular changes, it is also possible that your doctor will request a biopsy. This is a relatively painless procedure, and it’s no more invasive than a Pap test. Once harvested, your cells will be further studied for precancerous cells and other abnormalities.
When it comes to prevention, cervical cancer screening is the best way to keep yourself safe. So why wait?
Our team is here to help.
We’re happy to answer all your questions about cervical cancer screening and guidelines. Plus, we’ll make every step of the way simple. Starting with your initial appointment, through receiving your test results, and even during the billing process, our staff is committed to keeping you safe and happy.
We would love to hear from you. Contact us with your questions and comments, or if you’re ready to schedule an exam.