Cervical Cancer Screening − The Pap Smear
The Pap test is an assessment of the cervix of the uterus for the earliest changes that could lead to cancer. The pap involves examining the cells of the cervix, cytology, and the testing for the presence of high-risk HPV (human papillomavirus). This is the virus that causes cervical cancer.
The cervix is the opening of the uterus and is found at the top of the vagina. When the cells of the cervix become abnormal, they can become a cancer if they are not monitored. This cancer develops on the surface of the cervix and will grow deeper into the tissues. If left undiagnosed, it can spread to other local organs and even to other parts of the body.
HPV (human papilloma virus) causes most cases of cervical cancer. Not all types of HPV cause cancer, but the ones that do can cause cancer of the vulva, vagina, cervix, anus, penis, mouth, and throat. These are considered the high-risk types of HPV.
Sexual activity is one way that HPV can be passed from one person to another. Typically, no symptoms occur.
Most women with high-risk HPV will not get cancer and the immune system will clear the infection. Those women who are not able to clear this infection carry a higher risk of progression over time. Factors such as smoking, a poor immune system, and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) may contribute to the body’s inability to fight and clear the virus.
How the Pap smear & HPV test are performed
The Pap test and HPV screens are performed with the pelvic examination by gently rubbing the cervix and sampling the cells of the canal of the cervix with a small brush or other sampling instrument. Typically, this is not painful.
The interval of how often to screen is individualized and the decision to repeat the Pap test will take into consideration your age, your previous test results, and your pelvic examination. As you age over 65, the decision to stop may be appropriate based on your previous test results and surgical history.
The Pap test and HPV screen are very important parts of your health and gynecological screening.
The HPV vaccine is the best way to protect against the HPV infection that can cause cervical cancer. Though the vaccine is safe and very effective, it may not protect against all high-risk types of HPV. Women who have been vaccinated against HPV still need regular cervical cancer screening.