Since its introduction in the late 1940’s, the Papanicolaou (Pap) test has been used as an early detection tool for cervical cancer or lesions on the cervix that could eventually become cancerous.
This diagnostic test has indeed helped to significantly reduce the number of cervical cancer deaths amongst women in the United States, reducing the rate by more than 70 percent since it was introduced. Despite these advances in early detection for cervical cancer, there was an estimated 12,170 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in 2012, and about 4,220 of these women will eventually succumb to their disease.
The Pap test helps doctors identify any abnormal changes that might occur within the patient’s cervix (it is important to note that an abnormal finding does not automatically mean that it is cervical cancer). The Pap test can also be used to accurately identify infections of the cervix. Diagnostic tests are critical for this disease, as women who have pre-cancerous conditions of the cervix normally present no symptoms. This means that regular screening is important, as you do not want to wait for symptoms to manifest. In fact, cervical cancer is highly curable when it is identified at an early stage.
Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer
Studies on cervical cancer have helped to identify several risk factors which may have a significant effect on a person’s chances of developing cervical cancer. First and for most, people who have been infected by the human papilloma virus (HPV) will have a much higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
While scientists have been able to identify more than a hundred separate strains of HPV, certain strains have been labeled as high-risk because they have been strongly linked to cancers such as cervical cancer. People can be infected by HPV via unprotected sexual intercourse or even direct skin contact. The Pap test has proven to be indispensable when it comes to detecting changes that HPV can cause in cervical cells.
The other important risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- A suppressed immune system
- Your first full-term pregnancy occurred when you were younger than 17
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables
- Poor living conditions
- Maintaining multiple sexual partners (higher risk for HPV)
- Long-term user of oral contraceptives
- Family members who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer
New Screening Guidelines for Cervical Cancer
New cervical cancer screening guidelines were released in March of last year. Major changes included the age at which women were recommended to go in for screening and how often they should receive a Pap test. Health care officials have strongly recommended that women discuss their risk for cervical cancer with their primary health care provider, as this should give them a better idea of how often they will need to be screened for this disease. This is especially important for women who have never been screened for cervical cancer before.
Prevent Cervical Cancer with the HPV Vaccination and Regular Screening
Currently, the HPV vaccine known as Gardasil is being made available for women ages 18 and younger. At this time, there are no other vaccines which can help protect women against the four high risk types of HPV (including the two strains of HPV which are responsible for 75 percent of cervical cancer cases). The Gardasil vaccination is actually broken up into a series of three doses that are to be administered over the course of nine months.
For Women who are older than 40, they should certainly consider going in for a Pap test this year, especially if they have never been screened in the past. If health insurance is an issue, there is no need to worry as there are a number of programs which will provide free cervical cancer screenings. If you are interested in learning more about cervical cancer, then you should also check out a few of these other websites: