Cervical Cancer Screening & Pap Smears
In the past, cervical cancer was a significant cause of death in the United States. Fortunately, there is an effective screening tool that can be performed right in our office that can help detect precancerous cells and allow for prompt and effective treatment to prevent cancer.
At Burlington OBGYN Associates our team of expert OBGYNs routinely evaluates patients for cervical cancer and other conditions.
What causes cervical cancer?
The majority of cervical cancer cases are a result of damage caused by the Human Papilloma or HPV virus. This is a very common genital infection that affects as many as 3 out of 4 people with a cervix in their lifetime. It is usually asymptomatic and most people do not even realize that they carry it. The majority of people will clear the infection, but some will not and may go on to develop cancer. This occurs when the virus makes changes to cervical cells. Over time, these changes can extend deep into the tissue of the cervix and uterus and even spread throughout the body. These changes usually take 3-7 years to develop. This is why regular screening for the HPV virus and cervical changes is so important.
How do we screen for cervical cancer?
Screening involves looking at the cervix using a device called a speculum. Cells are then collected at the external opening of the cervix and sent to a laboratory for cytology (performed by a pathologist using a microscope), testing for the presence of the HPV virus, or both.
Who needs a Pap smear and how often?
Pap smear alone should be initiated at age 21 and continued every three years until age 29. While HPV testing alone may be performed, the Pap smear is preferred. HPV testing may also be done at this time if the Pap smear is abnormal.
For women ages 30 to 65, there are three acceptable options. These include a Pap test with HPV testing (or co-testing) every 5 years, a Pap test alone every three years or an HPV test alone every 5 years.
People with HIV, a weakened immune system, or a history of an abnormal pap smear may need more frequent screening. Even if you have had a hysterectomy or removal of the uterus you may still need pap smears depending on your history.
What happens if my test is abnormal?
Your provider will call you to discuss further diagnostic testing, treatment, or surveillance depending on your results. This may include repeating the pap smear sooner or colposcopy where your provider will take a closer look at your cervix with a microscope and may take a biopsy or small tissue sample of your cervix.
How can I further reduce my risk of cervical cancer?
Smoking cessation and the HPV vaccine are important ways to protect yourself. Ask your provider for more information.
What should I do next?
Even if you are not due for cervical cancer screening, it is important to see your gynecologist regularly for routine care visits and other screenings! You can request an appointment with our doctors here.