Womens Health

Pap Smears And Cervical Cancer

The Cervical Cancer-Pap Smear Connection

Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, has been clearly identified as the chief cause of cervical cancer. Yet due to the lack of external signs and symptoms that accompany HPV viruses, cervical cancer can easily go undetected. Fortunately, Pap smears are extremely effective at detecting cervical cancer. The earlier cervical cancer is detected the sooner appropriate treatment can begin. Moreover, the Pap smear can detect abnormal changes in the cervix before they become cancerous.

For this reason, Pap smears are now conducted as part of routine gynecologic exams. Guidelines issued from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommend that all women have a Pap test at least once every 3 years, beginning no later than age 21. And while today vaccines exist for preventing cervical cancer (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved the vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil), even women who have received a vaccine should have regular Pap smears since the vaccines do not protect against all strains of cervical cancer.

More on Pap Smears

The Pap smear (also called Papanicola test, Pap test, cervical smear, or smear test) is considered the number one tool for detecting cervical cancer in women. Cervical cancer is a slow-to-progress disease that can take years to develop. The Pap test locates abnormal cells on the cervix so that they can be removed before cancer develops.

Today an HPV test is also available that can determine the presence of HPV and of high-risk HPV strains. The HPV test uses the same technique of taking a sample of cervical cells and is performed along with a Pap smear test. Note that while the experts recommend that all women over the age of 30 should be offered the HPV test along with a routine Pap smear, not all doctors do so and thus women should request to have the HPV test performed.

What Happens During a Pap Smear?

Women lie on their back with their legs in stirrups. Using a speculum instrument to gently widen the vagina opening, a sample of cells is removed with a small spatula. These cells are placed on a slide or preserved in a test tube and sent to a lab to be analyzed. The procedure produces mild discomfort but no pain, and results can be expected within two weeks.

New and Improved Liquid Pap Test

A major technological improvement has emerged with the development of liquid-based or thin-prep technology. The Thin-Prep Pap Test is the most sensitive and accurate Pap test to date in detecting precancerous cervical cells. In addition, it has also been approved to test for the STDs Chlamydia and Gonorrhea. Thus the thin-prep or liquid Pap test offers improved sample preservation, increased disease detection from a single sample, more reliable diagnoses, and greater cost effectiveness.

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