It’s no mystery why many women dread their annual OB/GYN appointment or well-woman checkup – THE PAP SMEAR. We admit, this important screening tool does put women in an undesirable position, but it is such a worthwhile endeavor when you learn that it can prevent the development of cervical cancer.
Detection of Cervical Cancer and HPV
Cervical cancer is dangerous because it is typically asymptomatic – meaning there are no physical symptoms or side effects – until it has developed to a point that is extremely difficult or impossible to treat. Fortunately, the pap smear was invented. This simple test, a small scrape of cell samples from your cervix, is all that is required for cervical cancer’s early detection and treatment. If the test comes back with abnormal results, your doctor will screen again or do more specific tests to determine the cause, so you can get treatment ASAP.
Cervical cancer typically begins in the transitional cells that are located at the end of the cervix and the beginning of the uterus. They don’t become cancer overnight. Rather, cells begin to morph and change into pre-cancerous cells. Doctors may refer to precancerous cells as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL), and dysplasia. In most cases, it takes several years for precancerous cells to become cancer, although it can happen much faster than that.
When these cells are caught early, they can be treated and/or removed, which can prevent
their development into more serious forms of cancer. Pap smears, designed to screen for these precancerous cells, are considered a routine part of well-woman checkups and are almost always covered by medical insurance. If you don’t have insurance, pap smears are also offered for free or for low-cost at most family planning or health clinics.
Your Pap Smears Can Be Three to Five Years Apart
Women 21 years and older are given pap smears every three years, unless they have a history of abnormal results or have had precancerous cells in the past. Most women over 65 can forgo pap smears altogether, assuming they have a history of normal pap smear results. Even better, by taking advantage of Co-Testing – which tests for HPV as well as abnormal cervical cells – most healthy women will be able to put off their pap smears for five years at a time.
Co-Testing and the Link Between HPV and Cervical Cancer
Women’s Health Associates now offers co-testing, which tests for both HPV and abnormal cervical cells at the same time. A “normal and HPV-FREE” result will allow most women off the pap smear hook for another half a decade. Why? Because there is a strong link between HPV (human papilloma virus) and cervical cancer.
HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases on the planet and is one of the main causes of cervical cancer. In fact, most people who are sexually active will have HPV during their lifetime. For some, the disease clears up on its own. In others, it doesn’t. HPV can cause genital warts in both men and women, and it can also cause changes in cervical tissues that can grow into cancer.
HPV testing is easy and will let you know whether or not you need to be treated. Young women and young men, ages 11 to 13 are also advised to get the Gardasil vaccine, which can protect them from four of the most common types of HPV. Two of these forms are the leading causes of cervical cancer and two more are the leading cause of genital warts.
Contact Women’s Health Associates to learn more about HPV vaccination, Co-testing for HPV and cervical cancer or other women’s wellness topics that are on your mind.