Wellness Wednesday: Screening for Cervical Cancer

As we said last week, more than 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women worldwide. But since it is usually slow developing, it is one of the most preventable types of cancer.

prevent-cervical-cancerJust this week, we learned that Erin Andrews, Fox sportscaster and co-host of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, had surgery for cervical cancer last fall. Her cancer was discovered during a routine exam, after which she had two surgical procedures and was given the all clear by her physician.

This highlights the importance of routine screenings for all women. With the proper screening and routine examinations, this type of cancer can be found in its early stages, and women can make a complete recovery.

Cervical cancer usually develops slowly over time. Before cancer appears in the cervix, the cells of the cervix go through changes known as dysplasia, in which abnormal cells begin to appear in the cervical tissue. Over time, the abnormal cells may become cancer cells and start to grow and spread more deeply into the cervix and to surrounding areas.

What is Cervical Cancer Screening?

Early cervical cancer may not cause signs or symptoms. Women should have regular check-ups, including tests to check for human papillomavirus (HPV) or abnormal cells in the cervix.

  • A Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for pre-cancers or cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
  • The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes.

A Pap test is recommended for all women between the ages of 21 and 65 years old, and can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic. During the Pap test, the doctor will collect a few cells and mucus from the cervix and the area around it. The cells are then placed on a slide or in a bottle of liquid and sent to a laboratory. If you get the HPV test along with the Pap test, the cells collected during the Pap test will be tested for HPV at the laboratory.

Screening Recommendations

jo2012041201The American Cancer Society recommends that all women begin cervical cancer testing screening at age 21. Women aged 21 to 29, should have a Pap test every 3 years. HPV testing should not be used for screening in this age group.

The Pap test, which screens for cervical cancer, is one of the most reliable and effective cancer screening tests available. However, it only screens for cervical cancer, and cannot detect uterine, ovarian or other reproductive cancers.

Women age 30-65 should be screened with a Pap test combined with an HPV test every 5 years or tested every 3 years with just the Pap test. Women who are at high risk for cervical cancer should be screened more often. You should speak to your doctor to determine your risk.

Women over 65 years of age who have had regular screenings in the previous 10 years should stop cervical cancer screening as long as they haven’t had any serious pre-cancers found in the last 20 years.

Low Cost Screenings

The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) provides breast and cervical cancer early detection testing to low-income, underserved, under-insured, and uninsured women in the U.S.

If you are looking for a Mercy Health System gynecologist, please visit our website and use our Find a Doctor tool.

Sources: National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


More Information:

National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP)

American Cancer Society Screening Guidelines

Testing for Cervical Cancer [PDF]

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